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I fell in love with carrot cake, when I fell in love with my husband. For years I had an exclusive (some would say dependent) relationship with chocolate. Given a choice of ice cream, cake, cookies, snacks, drinks (you get the picture), I would almost always sway towards the chocolate offering. So you can imagine the shock and ensuing protest when he suggested we serve carrot cake at our wedding. I still do not know how he convinced me, but I did give up the vision of rich chocolate cake with richer, thicker chocolate frosting willingly agreed to carrot cake. One of our marriage’s first big compromises.

Key to our agreement was that we found an absolutely fantastic bakery, The Buttery in Santa Cruz, that baked up the most luscious carrot cake imaginable. This was 10 years ago and I still remember how delicious it was! This recipe is NOT from The Buttery, I adapted it from one clipped from a newspaper years ago, but it is the next best thing. It includes the absolutely key ingredient BUTTER! Flip through a pile of carrot cake recipes and you will see how rare this ingredient is. Almost all of the carrot cake recipes in my collection call for vegetable oil, which makes a nice moist cake, but fails to deliver the distinctive buttery note that reminds me that chocolate (while a delicious intoxicant) is not the only way to celebrate an occasion. The cream cheese frosting is super creamy and just sweet and tangy enough to add a nice counterpoint to the rich cake.

This particular cake I whipped up for a very special person to celebrate her 65th birthday. Which brings me to another reason to love carrot cake… there is no need to wait for a birthday or wedding. Carrot cake is fancy enough to hold its own on these occasions, but simple enough for an afternoon snack. Really, it is full of carrots and nuts and raisins; it is practically health food!

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One trip to the Farmers’ Market is enough to know that spring is truly here.  Mounds of fava beans, pea shoots, and strawberries compete for space with kale, beets, and last season’s  potatoes.  My kids and I headed over last weekend to pick up some fresh foods and the obligatory honey sticks.  When we returned home, our house was unpleasantly warm thanks to unseasonably sultry weather.  It may have been too hot to cook, but it was the perfect temperature to put together some quick refrigerator pickles.

Pickled Spring Vegetables are an Asian-inspired quick pickle.   Quick pickles are a fantastic use for all sorts of vegetables and do not require time or canning equipment.   I used Easter egg radishes, fresh nantes carrots, and leeks from our trip to the market, though you could also use cucumbers, onions, daikon radishes, or just about any other vegetable you want to pickle.  The brine is based on rice wine vinegar and lime juice that tempers the sweetness.  These pickles have hints of flavor from slices of ginger, garlic and cilantro.  Slice up the veggies and pour over the brine.  The pickles will be ready to eat in under an hour.  Letting them sit overnight will intensify the flavor, if they last that long.

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We all have those meals that are burned in our memory for one reason or another.  These are the meals that when we recall them, define a time in our lives.  Though I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, chicken pot pie is one of those meals for me.  Occasionally my parents would leave me at home to go out for the night.  I was always excited, because I could have a frozen dinner (those were not common fare in our home).  One of my favorite dinners was always a chicken pot pie.  I loved the creamy chicken and the flaky crust.  Invariably, I burnt my anxious tongue on the steaming hot sauce.  Those hot little pies were the highlight of my night. Even so, I always knew that the dish was not quite right.  The chicken and vegetables were too small and uniformly cut.  The sauce was too salty.  The crust too bland.  At that time, it never occurred to me that this special meal could be made at home!

Biscuit-topped Chicken Pot Pie is my effort to right the wrongs of pot pies of my past that missed the mark.  Every ingredient and every step come together to create what I imagine a pot pie should be like.  The chicken is poached in broth, then cut into large tender pieces, so there is no mistaking its presence.  The vegetables are abundant and fresh.  The potatoes are creamy. The sauce is based on a homemade chicken stock that is reduced and mixed with fresh thyme and cream.  The potential of this dish is dependent on the quality of the broth used.  I highly recommend using your own stock.  It is so easy to make and the flavor is incomparable.

Oh, and the topping.  Though I do love pie crust atop meat pies, biscuits are my favorite.  Floating the biscuits on the pot pie allows the tops to brown and puff and the bottom to saturate with the rich gravy.  It is the best of both worlds.  This is definitely a comfort food.

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