When my friend Shannen came to visit me last weekend, we had already spent months talking about what we would cook. The gamut ran from the aforementioned croissants, to another round of homemade pasta, to a particular fried chicken recipe we’ve both wanted to try for a long time. However, when she actually showed up, it was with an early birthday present in tow: Jamie’s Italy. Suddenly, all other cooking plans dissipated and we found ourself building a menu for an Italian five course dinner. Being certifiable, we crafted the menu around noon, spent the afternoon shopping for ingredients, started cooking around 4:30, and actually managed to start eating at 7:30. We were very impressed with ourselves.

The food was fabulous, the wine was plentiful, and the company was amazing. What more can you ask of from an impromptu dinner party? In the next week, I will slowly unfold our menu, course by course. First up was the antipasti course, which involved two dishes. The first was a meat platter, which we crafted from the bountiful selection of Star Provisions. We built the platter around three meats: hot sopressata, bresaola, and pancetta. With the help of the cheese monger, we paired the sopressata and the bresaola with very different pecorinos, and we had our first dish. I believe that the pecorino we used with the sopressata was a pecorino sardo, it was mild and creamy and played well off of the spiciness of the sopressata. With the bresaola we used a classic pecorino romano, sharp and salty, shaved over the meat.

Our second antipasti dish was limoni di amalfi cotti al forno or amalfi baked lemons. We all agreed that this dish was one of the best of the evening. The cheese really picks up a strong lemon flavor and the anchovies melt away, leaving only a feint nuttiness. I had some trepidations about using the anchovies, having had a bad experience in the past. But apparently the key is getting jarred instead of canned, and splurging on higher quality anchovies doesn’t hurt either. Basil, picked fresh from my garden, and organic cherry tomatoes from my CSA finished off the dish nicely.

Recipe after the jump

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cake picture

This cake is probably the first recipe I ever tried off of somebody’s blog. It is also the first thing I baked after going gluten-free. With regular flour out of my life, I turned to the internet for answers and inspiration. I discovered food blogging. First, I found Shauna, a.k.a the Gluten Free Girl. I loved how honest her blog was, and I loved her attitude towards food. I didn’t have any desire to sit around and feel sorry for myself or mourn the loss of wheat; instead, I was excited about feeling better, and ready to embrace my new lifestyle. Reading her blog, I felt as though I had found a kindred spirit. I went back to the beginning, and read every single post, I talked about her blog to my friends (imagine a conversation that goes something like this: friend: “how was your day,” me: “good, I read this amazing post on that blog I’m reading…”). I spent hours, literally hours a day reading every word, until one day I caught up to the present. All of the sudden, I was limited to one post, every couple of days or so… desperate, I turned to her links, and I found Molly (a.k.a Orangette).

While reading Shauna’s blog I felt a connection over our shared attitude towards being gluten-free, but with Molly it was something else. Her blog has, of course, wonderful food. But it wasn’t the food that kept bringing me back day after day to read every single entry of her blog. Instead, it was the fact that Molly’s blog was both exhilarating and frightening to me. She had faced herself, her true loves and passions, and had left her graduate program, and it was the best decision that she could have made. Having just gone through a very busy, stressful semester of graduate school, and unsure what I wanted from my life, her blog, to put it lightly, pushed my buttons.

And when I read about this cake…the cake that led her husband to her. I had to have it. Never mind, that it had gluten, never mind that I had never baked anything gluten-free. I wanted lemon yogurt cake. I somehow felt that my ability to be satisfied with my own life depended on my ability to successfully recreate that cake. So I read Bette Hagman’s suggestions for converting recipes, and dove in.

Amazingly, it was spectacular the first time. All summer, every time I had any excuse to make a dessert, I made this cake. By the end of the summer, I had the recipe memorized, and could whip the batter together in minutes. I tried all sorts of flour mixes, and never had a problem with any of them, that is, until I tried a flour mix that involved garbanzo beans (beans and lemons in a cake = yuck). The yogurt helps give the cake a fabulous texture and moisture, regardless of flour choice. I’m not sure if my happiness ever really rested on this cake’s success, but if it did, the results were felicitous.

By the end of the summer I was moving on to exploring new recipes, ready to face a new semester of graduate school, and this cake faded to a fond memory, until the other night. Asked to bring dessert to a dinner party, with my tongue still remembering last week’s Meyer lemon bars, I couldn’t not make this cake.

Recipe after the jump

meyer lemon bars

We are blessed in Atlanta to have the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. It isn’t a farmers market in the usual sense of the word, as it is year round, has an international flavor, and is lodged in a giant warehouse. Think: Sam’s Club meets farmer’s market, but in an good way. Anyway, the market has good prices on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (both conventional and organic), so it wasn’t too surprising that I managed to stumble across Meyer lemons last week, even though I thought the time for that had long since passed. So, although I had no reason to buy said lemons, and am trying to keep the dessert baking within reasonable limits, I just couldn’t pass them by. I blame Deb of Smitten Kitchen who waxed poetic about Meyer lemons and their scarcity on the East Coast just a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, I had lemon on the brain.

Or maybe not that sadly, as I have lemon bars in the oven, and seriously, who can be sad about lemon bars?

This recipe is a gluten-free version of Alice Medrich’s “very tangy lime or lemon bars” from her amazing cookbook Pure Dessert. I actually didn’t have quite enough juice in my Meyer lemons to yield 1/2 cup, so I did add a little regular lemon juice and up the sugar by 1 tablespoon. If you don’t have Meyer lemons or are using limes, add a 1/2 cup of sugar to the topping (bringing the sugar up to 1 up plus 2 tablespoons). Also, if you aren’t gluten-free and don’t have these flours, just substitute all-purpose flour.

Recipe after the jump