There’s nothing quite like an episode of The Chef’s Table to simultaneously ignite and stifle kitchen inspiration.
On one particularly aimless Saturday, the Urban Farmer and I committed to the series, as hard as we committed to lazing on the couch. We snacked on popcorn (albeit an herb flavored home-popped batch- soooo fancy) and sipped whiskey drinks while watching a chef comb his nation for altitude-inspired dishes. He applied scientific rigor to investigating each region’s known and unknown ingredients, then sculpted them into dishes that could hardly be described with words. The discrepancy in our snacking was palpable.
Then it was time for me to get to work in the kitchen. I had visions of tweezing and drizzling and grand plated desserts, but all those visions came a little too late in the day, so I stuck to my original plan- a citrus accented quick bread. As I tried to gussy up the dessert, I couldn’t help but feel a little dejected, but there was little time to wallow. The bread/cake (quick breads are just cakes in disguise after all) was still warm as we flew out the door to join our friends for dinner.
The dinner began with Manhattans- the very thoughtful variety of Manhattans that includes a luxardo cherry in lieu of cough syrup sweetness. There were cheeses and oil dips and the sort of plump, dry olives that remind me of dinosaur eggs (as if I know what a dinosaur egg would look like aside from my recent viewing of all Jurassic Parks).
There was a farro salad I wish would appear before me daily at lunch time, punctuated by the sweetness of cherry tomatoes and little hints of mint. Our gracious hosts kept our wine glasses full, and moved from kitchen to table with such subtle ease. It was all so inspiring, and we could barely break ourselves away, especially after pillowy gnocchi came into play.
The dinner extended late into the night, long after we indulged in slices of this dessert bread with dollops of salted sage ice cream (!). It was a very filling reminder of what’s most inspiring and really so simple about The Chef’s Table: the passion for food and communion, for bringing people together and appreciating ingredients. At the end of the day, I was grateful for complex aspirations and the reminder that simplicity can really sing.
Whole Grain Lemon Quick Bread with Honey Candied Lemons
About this Recipe: The coconut sugar gives this quick bread a dark color and almost molasses flavor. If you want a lighter, more pound cake texture, switch to an organic, raw cane sugar. For breakfast, serve a slice with a spread of lavender infused butter. As a dessert, top a slice with a candied lemon and a dollop of ice cream. I found a salted sage variety at a local shop that paired perfectly with the sweet lemon and thyme accents. If you have leftover honey candied lemons, add them to your cocktails.
Whole Grain Lemon Quick Bread
Yield: 2 loaves
3 cups organic white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup organic/local buttermilk
Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan (organic/grass-fed)
2 cups organic coconut sugar
5 large eggs (organic/non-gmo)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Butter and flour two 4 1/2-by-8-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
In a small bowl (or liquid measuring cup), combine buttermilk with lemon zest and juice.
With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three parts alternately with the buttermilk mixture in two, beginning and ending with flour; beat just until smooth (do not overmix).
Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes (tent with foil if browning too quickly).
Cool 15 minutes in pan. Turn out cakes onto a rack; cool completely before glazing.
Set rack with cakes over a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Pour glaze over cakes, letting it run down the sides; let dry, about 30 minutes.
Honey Candied Lemons
1 cup filtered water
1/2 cup organic coconut sugar
4 Tablespoons honey
3 organic lemons, thinly sliced
1 bundle of fresh thyme
Place the water, honey, and coconut sugar in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Lay the slices in the syrup so that they are all flat and all submerged. Lay the bundle of thyme over the slices. Simmer until the rind is softened and translucent in places. Approximately 5-7 minutes.
Remove the lemons and thyme from the syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reserve the syrup.