Yes, we know it’s not officially here yet. Spring is about three weeks away. But, who can ignore this weather? And when people start grousing about it being cold when the temperatures are the 50s in February, I have to think: Isn’t it time to join the fray and think spring, too?
In that spirit, I searched out a quartet of recipes that, honestly, appealed to me first on their attractive appearance: They made me think of less of winter meals and more of lighter fare. Luckily, a little more investigating proved them to be delicious as well.
The first on my list is a decades-old recipe from the New York Times. First published in 1983, food writer Marian Burros’ plum torte has become one of the most popular recipes in the history of that newspaper, and it’s no mystery why. There are so many things to love: It’s easy, it’s practically no-fail and it’s endlessly adaptable.
Another sweet recipe, from Noelle Carter of the Los Angeles Times, is a simple no-bake peanut butter/chocolate/crispy cereal bar that kids and adults will enjoy as a snack or even for breakfast.
And on the subject of breakfast recipes, Caprese Scrambled Eggs are delightful. This time of year, you’ll have to spring for some fresh basil and root around for a couple good tomatoes, though.
The two entrees I’ve included are a simple weeknight pasta recipe, Lemon-Rosemary Chicken and Orzo Skillet, that can be made in 30 minutes, and Porcini-Crusted Pork Tenderloin. Again, for great flavor, invest in some fresh rosemary and cherry tomatoes for the chicken, and for the pork, buy some dried porcini mushrooms.
Lemon-Rosemary Chicken and Orzo Skillet
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) dried whole-grain orzo pasta
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth
1 medium zucchini (8 to 9 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 heaping cup (61/2 ounces) cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, deep lidded skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken and cook, stirring one or twice, until browned, 2 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken, transferring the chicken to the plate once it has browned.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet, then add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the orzo and rosemary and cook, stirring, until the orzo is well coated with the oil and lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, until the orzo is about halfway cooked.
Stir in the zucchini and cook, covered, until it is just tender, about 3 minutes, then return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet along with the tomatoes, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the tomatoes soften and the chicken is cooked through. Serve sprinkled with the parsley.
Yield: 4 servings.
Per serving: 490 calories, 41 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar.
Nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger for The Washington Post
Caprese Scrambled Eggs
8 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup thinly sliced or diced fresh mozzarella (half of a 7.5-ounce container, drained)
1/4 cup sliced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons finely sliced fresh chives
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Crusty French or Italian bread, sliced
Crack eggs into a large pitcher or bowl. Add sour cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and garlic. Use a whisk to mix well.
Mix tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, chives and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Transfer to a colander to drain while you scramble the eggs.
Heat a large (10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Reduce heat to medium. Add oil and heat. Add eggs. Scramble, stirring gently with a heatproof spatula to create large curds until almost set, usually 2 to 3 minutes. Add drained tomato mixture; scramble softly to incorporate mixture into the eggs. Serve immediately over bread (or toast).
Note: To prevent wateriness in the finished eggs, cut tomatoes crosswise in half and use your fingertip to scoop out the seeds before dicing the flesh.
Yield: 4 servings (minus bread).
Per serving: 302 calories, 24 grams fat, 389 mg cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 18 grams protein, 642 mg sodium.
No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars
1 (12-ounce) jar plus 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 (12-ounce) box crisped rice cereal
2 1/2 cups chocolate chips, divided
1/2 to 1 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 12 ounces peanut butter and the butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Crush the crisped rice cereal to a coarse meal: Pulse the cereal in batches using a food processor, or place the cereal in a large sealable plastic bag and crush using a rolling pin.
Add the cereal to the peanut butter mixture and beat to combine. Press the mixture into a greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Chill until firm.
Place 2 cups chocolate chips in a glass measuring cup or dish and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until melted and smooth. Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup peanut butter until fully combined and smooth. Spread the melted chocolate mixture over the peanut butter bars. Sprinkle over the peanuts.
Melt the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, then drizzle the melted chocolate over the peanuts. Chill until the chocolate is firm, then cut into bars.
Yield: 16 to 20 bars.
Noelle Carter, Los Angeles Times
Porcini-Crusted Pork Tenderloin
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 1/8 pounds)
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
Flaked sea salt, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the coriander seed and black peppercorns in a sealable plastic bag and crush them with a mallet or rolling pin until coarsely ground. Place the porcini mushrooms in the small bowl of a food processor or a mini-chopper, and process until finely ground. (You should have about 1/4 cup; it's OK if there are some slightly larger pieces remaining.) Add the coriander mixture to the mushrooms and stir to incorporate.
Trim the silver skin and excess fat from the exterior of the tenderloin; pat the meat dry. Spread it evenly with the mustard, then sprinkle with the porcini mixture so the meat is evenly coated.
Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the tenderloin; sear it for 2 minutes per side, turning it as you work, then transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast for 18 to 20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 145 degrees (medium-rare) or 155 degrees (medium).
Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before cutting it into thin slices. Season lightly with the flaked salt.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 200 calories, 27 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium.
Ellie Krieger/Washington Post
Original Fruit Torte
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt (optional)
24 halves pitted purple plums (or a variety of other fruit; see info below)
Sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, for topping
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and eggs and beat well.
Spoon the batter into a springform or other pan of 8, 9 or 10 inches diameter. Place the plum halves skin-side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and lemon juice, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon cinnamon, depending on how much you like cinnamon.
Bake 1 hour, approximately. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze, if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with whipped cream or sprinkled with powdered sugar.
To serve a torte that was frozen, defrost and reheat it briefly at 300 degrees.
Yield: 8 servings.
4 ways to adapt this torte:
1. Replace the plums with almost any seasonal fruit: apricots, halved and pitted; cranberries or any summer berry; sliced apples, nectarines, peaches and pears. Canned and frozen fruit can stand in for fresh.
2. Experiment with spices, herbs and extracts: vanilla extract, almond extract, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, rosemary, orange or lemon zest.
3. Change up the pan. The torte can be baked in any metal or glass dish provided it’s approximately 8 to 10 inches in diameter and oven-safe — no springform pan needed.
4. Double, triple, even quadruple it. The batter scales up like a dream, and the baked cake freezes well. Double the recipe and it fits nicely in a 13-by-9-inch pan.
Marion Burros, New York Times