Window of opportunity

Last Sunday morning I was running around the kitchen with my cousin, Christine, baking a honey vanilla pound cake.  We had spent Saturday during the day celebrating my sister, Stacia's, 30th birthday.  We had lunch, went shopping, had our nails done, and had a very elegant evening of wine tasting at my fabulous local wine shop, Lush.  Christine specifically requested we bake something with flour Sunday morning before she took off.  We had a window of opportunity to do some cooking, but it included rising early after a late night.  She's pregnant with her first, just put in a beautiful new kitchen, and wanted some baking practice.  With my aching head, Christine guided me through the recipe.  We sifted the fluffy cake flour and beat the eggs and sugar into the palest yellow batter I have ever set eyes on.  

I realize that I have posted a lemon polenta cake in the not to recent past, but I adore lemon in cakes and puddings.  There's something easy and accessible about something baked in a loaf tin.  The lemon here is paired with honey and vanilla and results in a lovely nursery loaf that is perfect for any time of day.  It really is a very quick and simple recipe- ideal when one has drank too many glasses of wine the night before. 

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature (let sit for 1 hour)
1 1/4cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease the bottom of an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2- inch loaf pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light.  Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup but do not combine. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.  With the mixer on low speed, add it slowly to the batter until just combined.  Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack and cool completely.

I sent Christine out the door with half of the piping hot loaf wrapped in foil and tucked into her shoe bag.

This Sunday, I'm happy to report we've had a lovely weather all weekend and not a drop of rain, which means we finally got to have dinner on the roof deck at sunset.  

I've kept my old Weber charcoal grill that I bought in London because I love the way the coal adds extra flavor to the food.  I'm no barbecue expert, but my husband is an excellent grill man for an Englishman who grew up in a country where any time you plan a barbecue, crack open the beers and invite your friends over, a rain cloud rolls in. 

One of my favorite things to grill outside in the summer is flank steak.  It's a cheap cut of meat and can be marinated in a variety of different ways.  In fact, the first time I made this, it was for a party I threw when we moved into our flat on Milton Grove in July of 2003.  I cooked four of them- some rare and some more well done.  Typically, the clouds did threaten with a storm, and we ran out and panic-bought a marquee that my husband rigged up.  Just as he did, the clouds parted and the sun came out.  

I particularly remember that this steak tastes wonderful cold.  We had headed to the pub across the street after the barbecue and several of us tucked into plates of leftover meat when we came back to the house tipsy.

This recipe comes from one of two Junior League cookbooks that my mother gave me, The Junior League Centennial Cookbook.  Both are treasured collections of tried and tested American recipes from women who have perfected the art of entertaining.  This particular book contains recipes from over 200 Junior Leagues across the US.  My mother cooked from both of them and this flank steak was something that featured on summer menus when I had come home from college.

The older of the two is called Winners: Winning Recipes from the Junior League of Indianapolis, and I inherited it after she passed away.  It contains a recipe for pumpkin soup that my entire family loves to cook at Thanksgiving.  I remember one year she even served it as our starter in little pumpkins she had hollowed out.  It was very impressive.

Even several years after she has passed away, I find comfort in going through some of the things she left behind, like this cookbook.  Upon leafing through it recently, I found two of her handwritten recipes for a cream cheese dip and a pork tenderloin.  Something about seeing her writing brings her closer in my memory.  I can see her sitting at the counter in the kitchen, as she did every morning, with her coffee cup cradled between both hands, and the lights off until she had "woken up".  Her waking up process took the best part of the morning.  It was there that she would write a list for the day.  This is something I definitely took from her.  I have lists everywhere for everything.  Every handbag and pocket I have is filled with grocery lists, things to buy and things to do.

One thing to note about the Junior League is that my mother was something of a rebel.  I think she enjoyed being a member and she did her fair share of volunteering, but I'm not sure she always fit into the crowd.  Let's just say she followed her own rules and I loved that about her.

I served this flank steak with purple and red potatoes simply boiled and topped with butter, salt, pepper and dill to mirror the steak marinade.

We also put some zucchini on the grill.  

Fold aluminum foil into a double layer and fold each side so they turn up.  Slice zucchini into thickish rounds and place them in a single layer on the foil.  Drizzle with olive oil, pepper and cumin.  Grill for about 8-10 minutes over hot coals.

Marinated Grilled Flank Steak
Adapted from The Junior League Centennial Cookbook, Birmingham, AL

Serves 4-6

Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry red wine
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove of garlic, sliced
ground black pepper to taste
4 chopped scallions
3 tbsp chopped dill
1 flank steak, about 1 1/2 pounds, trimmed

Make marinade by combining all ingredients.  Score the steak diagonally across both sides, diagonally.  Place the steak in a shallow dish or zip-lock bag and pour the marinade over.  Let stand in the refrigerator for 2-12 hours, turning once or twice.  Remove from the marinade and grill over hot coals for 4 minutes each side for rare meat.  Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes.  Slice the meat on the diagonal across the grain and serve. 

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