January 2010 Archives

Lemon Bars

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We're still working our way through that big box of lemons.  We are down to a gallon sized ziplock bag full in the refrigerator.  The end is near which is a sad thing.  

I debated a great deal what dessert to make next.  I toyed with lemon cupcakes or lemon curd spooned over angel food cake or perhaps over pound cake.  Finally, after much deliberation I settled on a pan of lemon bars.  

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I've loved lemon bars ever since the first time I tried them over at a friends house in 4th grade.  The recipe her family used was Lucy's Lemon Bars out of The Peanuts Cookbook.  While I don't have that particular recipe, I have tried many different recipes over the years.  Lately my favorite has been Ina Garten's version.  I particularly like it because it seems to have about twice the lemon filling as the standard recipe.  These are lemon bars to eat with a fork.

Because I always must fiddle with things, I have made a few adjustments to her recipe.  Since I really like lemon and think that most recipes could use a bit more, I add lemon zest to the crust as well as the filling.  Also, I am a firm believer that sweet recipes need a bit of salt to round things out so I add a little salt into the filling as well.

Even on a cloudy and grey day these are a bit of sunshine.

Ina's Lemon Bars

adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten



Crust:

1/2 lb unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 C granulated sugar

2 C all purpose flour

2 t lemon zest

1/8 t salt


Filling:

6 eggs at room temperature

3 C granulated sugar

2 T lemon zest

1 C fresh lemon juice

1 C flour

1/8 t salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


To make the crust, cream together the butter and sugar in a mixer.  Add in the flour, zest and salt all at once and mix to combine.  Pour dough into a 9 x 13 baking pan and press evenly on the bottom and about 1/2" up the sides of the pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes until lightly golden.  Set aside while the filling is made.


Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, juice, flour and salt.  Pour mixture over crust and bake for 30 - 35 minutes until filling is just set.  Let cool to room temperature.


Cut into 20 squares and dust with powdered sugar.


printable version - lemon_bars.pdf

-- marcella

Tilapia with Chimichurri

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This year I started subscribing again to Cooking Light magazine.  Years ago I was a subscriber but found that as time went by I was cooking from the magazine less and less, so I let my subscription lapse.  Last fall an issue caught my eye at the grocery store and I bought it.  I found the magazine had changed over time and we made quite a few dishes from that issue and enjoyed them all.  I decided to subscribe again.

Last nights dinner was from the January/February issue.  It was a quick dinner as promised, and both my husband and I felt that it was definitely a recipe to make again.  We try so many things around here that a dish has to be pretty good to make it worthy of multiple makings.

As always, I played around with the ingredients to match what I had on hand.  The original recipe called for halibut, but I had tilapia in the freezer.  Really, I think the recipe would be great with any flaky white fish.  The only frozen corn in our freezer was the fire roasted version from Trader Joe's.  That gave us a head start on the charring.  Also, the recipe called for cooking the fish on the stove in a grill pan.  I don't have that sort of pan and frankly like to cook fish in the oven as it leaves me free to deal with the other aspects of dinner.  Grilling does add flavor and lovely char marks though, so if you have the pan go for it.

Fish with Chimichurri and Vegetable Rice

adapted from Cooking Light, January/February 2010



1 1/2 T chopped fresh cilantro

1 T chopped fresh basil

1 T finely chopped green onion

2 t olive oil

1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice

1/2 t salt, divided

1/4 t black pepper, divided

4 - 6 ounce fish fillets, any white fish will do


Combine the herbs, onion, oil and lemon juice in a small bowl.  Stir in 1/4 t salt and 1/8 t pepper.  Set aside.


Place the fish in a baking dish and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes per inch of thickness.  Fish could also be grilled or seared on the stove.


Serve the fish topped with the sauce.



For the rice:

1 C rice

water

1 T olive oil

1/2 C frozen corn

1/2 C chopped zucchini

1/2 C chopped green onion

1/2 C halved cherry tomatoes

salt


Cook the rice according to package directions omitting salt and oil.


Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the corn and zucchini to the pan and saute until the vegetables char, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and onion and salt to taste.  Cook an additional minute until tomatoes begin to wilt.  Stir in the cooked rice and serve with the fish.


printable version - fish&rice.pdf


-- marcella



Tortillas

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When my mom was 12 she learned how to make flour tortillas from her grandmother.  After that, she was given the job of making tortillas for the family meals.

As we children grew up two things became infinitely clear.  One, mom did not want us kids in her kitchen ever, but particularly not when she was in there cooking.  Two, at the age of 12 we were allowed in long enough for a tortilla lesson.

We were schooled in the method of our great-grandma.  No measuring utensils were allowed.  A mug was used to measure the flour.  The palm of our hand was used to measure the salt and baking powder.  Everything was measured by eye.  Once we produced a satisfactory batch of tortillas we were again banned from the kitchen.

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As a result, when I moved away from home I had to make a few frisbee batches before I got the feel of tortilla making again.  After all, 6th grade was pretty far behind me.  Soon, however, I was back up to speed and making the occasional treat for my family.

One day my mom was over while I was making tortillas.  At each step she would question what I was doing.  I swear I was doing it like she taught me:  mug, check; no utensils, check; black cast iron skillet, check.  Turns out her technique had streamlined over the years and she had, ahem, "forgotten" to tell me about her new and improved methods.  Her "why are you mixing that by hand" really translated to "they mix up really fast in food processor."

Now I know her real secrets and I'm sharing them with you.

So, heat up your skillet, pull out your measuring utensils and whip up a batch of tortillas - extra fast - in your food processor.  Tortilla heaven is only minutes away.

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Flour Tortillas

makes 1 dozen


3 C flour

1 1/2 t baking powder

3/4 t salt

1 1/2 T vegetable oil

3/4 C warm water (approximately)


Stir together the dry ingredients.  Add in the oil and then slowly add the warm water to make a soft but not sticky dough.


Divide the dough into 12 balls and cover with a towel and let rest 20 minutes.


Heat a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove over medium heat.


Roll out the dough into a thin round.  Cook in the skillet until bubbles form on top.  Turn over and cook the second side until brown spots are formed.  


Place cooked tortillas in a clean dishtowel to keep warm.


printable version - flour_tortillas.pdf


-- marcella


Oatmeal Cookies

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Occasionally I will bribe myself in order to get things done.  Say I have a particularly unappealing task to complete that I just do not want to do but must.  I will tell myself that as soon as I complete that dreaded task I can have a reward.  Most often that reward takes the form of an hour of uninterrupted reading on the couch.  Recently the reward was a trip to that lovely french linen shop and treats from Gayle's bakery across the parking lot.

At the bakery I purchased some of their bread which we love and an eclair for my husband and I to split for dessert that night.  However, I just could not resist one of their oatmeal cookies too.  Normally I am not a fan of bakery cookies.  They are generally hard and chemical-y tasting and just all around nasty.  These cookies are delicious.

That oatmeal cookie was so delicious in fact that I wanted needed more.  I tried to resist, but by the end of the week gave in.  Fortunately, I have their bakery book and was able to stir up a batch of their oatmeal cookies as I'm not entirely sure just any batch of cookies would have done.

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The first night I baked up a dozen and we ate them for dessert.  The next day I baked up the rest and ate far too many of them myself.  They were wonderful and fully satisfied my oatmeal cookie craving.

Oatmeal Cookies

from The Village Baker's Wife



1 C butter at room temperature

3/4 C granulated sugar

1 1/4 C firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

1 t vanilla extract

3/4 t ground cinnamon

2 C all purpose flour

3/4 t salt

3/4 t baking soda

3 1/2 C rolled oats 

1 C raisins


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


In a large bowl cream the butter with the sugars.  Add in the eggs and egg yolk one at a time beating well until each is incorporated.  Mix in the vanilla


In a second bowl whisk together the cinnamon, flour, salt and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture.


Add in the oats and raisins being careful to not overmix.  The cookie dough will be moist.


Drop 2 tablespoons of  cookie dough onto a baking sheet.  Space cookies about 2 inches apart.  Bake cookies in the center rack of the oven for 12 - 14 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes about 40 cookies.


printable version - oatmeal_cookies.pdf


-- marcella


While those amazing potatoes were my husband's first pick to cook from the new book, it was the fried chicken that caught my eye.  Actually, I'd been thinking about that chicken long before the cookbook was printed.  That famous chicken is served bi-weekly in the restaurant.  Every other Monday the menu popped up on my home page to taunt me.  That recipe had been demonstrated on many television shows and had appeared (always with a slight variation) in magazines and in newspaper food sections.  I, however, was waiting for the "real" recipe hot off the press.

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Making the chicken was another matter entirely.  It takes two days!  Seriously.  And then, there was that ominous line "do not brine the chicken more than 12 hours or it will be too salty".  This was my big concern.  

I have never been a passenger on the brine the meat bandwagon.  Sure, I've read the articles trumpeting the superiority of brined meat.  When I taste it?  Eh, mostly I taste overly salty meat.   I had become a brine-skipper when a recipe called for it.  

If you brine for the 12 hours and want chicken at 6:30 pm that means you have to be up and actually functioning in the kitchen 12 hours earlier which is not a happy thing.  Then, if you read further in the recipe you discover to your (ok, to my) horror that you also have to add in frying time and bringing the chicken to room temperature time which would mean dunking that chicken in it's briney bath at 4 am!  That my friends is never going to happen around here.

While I was willing to brine the chicken for Thomas Keller, I wasn't willing to get up long before the crack of dawn to do it.  I made the decision that the chicken went in when I got up at whatever time that was.  And so it happened.

Other than my brining revolt we did follow the recipe as written.

It was delicious.  The meat was juicy and herbal tasting and lemony.  The crust shattered when you bit in and left crumbles down your shirt.  It was nicely seasoned and spicy.  We used our fingers to eat and had extra big cloth napkins.

But, was it worth all that fussy effort?  That one is tougher to answer.  I only go through the mess of making fried chicken about every three years.  It just doesn't happen too often around here.  Yes, we love fried foods, but it is a mess and a hassle and the specter of hardening arteries is always hovering over head.

I said to my husband that I really liked it, but it wasn't that much different from my regular recipe which is much simpler with an overnight bath in buttermilk rather than the brine.  It also doesn't require separate temperatures for frying; just plop it in and cook.

My husbands response?  "Clearly then you misunderstood the master."

It hurts to snort fried chicken crust crumbs, let me tell you.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken


Brine:


3 lemons, halved

12 bay leaves

1/2 bunch (2 ounces) flat-leaf parsley

1/2 bunch (1/2 ounce) thyme

1/4 C clover honey

1/2 head of garlic cut in half through the equator

2 T black peppercorns

1 C kosher salt, preferable Diamond Crystal

1 gallon water


Coating:


6 C all purpose flour

1/4 C garlic powder

1/4 C onion powder

1 T plus 1 t paprika

1 T plus 1 t cayenne

1 T plus 1 t kosher salt

1 t freshly ground black pepper


Additional ingredients:


peanut or canola oil for deep frying

1 quart buttermilk

2 - 2 1/2 to 3 lb chickens

ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt


Making the Brine - Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Boil for one minute, stirring to dissolve the salt.  Remove from heat and cool completely.  Chill before using.  The brine can be made up to 3 days in advance.


For the Fried Chicken - Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters and 2 wings.  Add the chicken to the brine and refrigerate for 12 hours - no longer or the chicken may become too salty.


Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse under cold water removing any herbs or spices sticking to it.  Pat dry with paper towels and let come to room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.


Use a large pot about 6 inches deep to cook the chicken.  Fill the pot with 2 inches of oil and heat to 320 degrees F.  Set up a cooling rack over a baking sheet.


While the oil is heating, combine all of the coating ingredients.  Divide the coating mix into two containers.  Pour the buttermilk into a bowl.  Dip each chicken piece into the first bowl of coating mix, then into the buttermilk and finally into the last bowl of coating.  Transfer to a parchment lined pan to rest.


Cook the thighs and legs first.  After 2 minutes of cooking carefully move the pieces in the oil and continue to fry , turning as necessary for even cooking.  Chicken will take about 11 - 12 minutes to cook and should be a deep golden brown.


Transfer the cooked pieces to a cooling rack, skin side up, and sprinkle with fine sea salt.


Turn the heat up to 340 degrees F to cook the breasts and wings.  These pieces will take about 6 - 7 minutes to cook through and be golden brown.  Cooked chicken should be places on the cooling rack  skin side up and sprinkled with salt to finish.


printable version - tcfriedchicken.pdf


-- marcella


Lemon Ice Cream

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lemon_icecream.jpgThis was dessert last night and it was delicious!  We had had terrible store bought and odd tasting ice cream the night before.  In an attempt to banish the memory, I pulled out our ice cream maker and decided to give a new recipe a try.

The recipe is from the book The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  We've tried many recipes out of this book and they are all winners.  Given the abundance of lemons we have around here the lemon version seemed like the one to try.

Normally, I gravitate towards ice cream recipes with a custard base.  I find them to be more creamy then the simply stirred together versions and less icy when the leftovers are eaten the next day.  However, the description in the book made me fling caution to the wind and try for this simple version.  I was so glad I did!

Lemon Ice Cream

From The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz


zest of 2 lemons

1/2 C sugar

1/2 C lemon juice

2 C half and half

pinch of salt


Put the lemon zest and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until the lemon zest is very fine.  Add the lemon juice and process until the sugar is dissolved.


Stir in the cream and salt and chill for at least one hour.


Pour the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturers instructions.


printable version:  lemon_ice_cream.pdf


-- marcella


Loads of Lemons

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My sister has a very prolific Meyer lemon tree.  It's a miracle lemon tree.  It was a teeny little thing that she planted in her backyard.  When the tree was still a baby a big frost hit our area and we weren't sure if the tree would survive.  I remember going over and we pruned all the dead wood off it and we weren't sure if there was enough tree left to ever produce fruit.  Now it is huge and she tells me it is packed with lemons.  So, naturally I asked her for some lemons.

I was thinking she'd fill a lunch bag.  What arrived was a big box!  There will be lots of lemon adventures around here for the next little while as we work our way though all those lemons.

First up was lemonade.  I love the stuff.  It went quite well with the pizza we had for lunch one day.

However, in order to make any inroads on that lemon box we needed more then a batch of lemon aid.

I decided to try my hand at marmalade.  I have never actually eaten any lemon marmalade but I've heard it's wonderful and loved even by orange marmalade haters.

The first step was to cut the lemons in half and slice them really thinly.  I used our v-slicer since my husband makes it look so easy and managed to slice my finger too.  What's scary?  That's when I was using the finger guard.  Without the guard I was fine and injury free.

After slicing, the lemons and juice are cooked briefly and allowed to sit overnight.  The next day the marmalade was cooked and canned.  Now we have some pretty jars sitting on the shelf.

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We had some on warm Irish soda bread with our dinner and it was really good.   My husband feels that the lemons should have been quartered rather than just halved.  If you prefer smaller pieces of fruit you may wish to do that.  It has a bright lemon flavor like lemon curd but without the richness since there is no butter or eggs.  I think some scones are in our future.

This recipe calls for vanilla as well.  Frankly, I don't know that the vanilla brings a whole lot to the party.  The lemon flavor is so strong that it really is what I notice when eating it.  If you don't have vanilla beans handy, I'll bet you could skip it and still have really delicious marmalade to eat.

Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade

makes about 4 1/2 cups


1 1/4 pounds Meyer lemons

5 cups water


5 1/2 cups (about) sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/2 t salt


Working on large plate to catch juice, cut lemons in half lengthwise, then very thinly crosswise. Discard seeds. Pack enough lemons and any juice to measure 2 1/2 cups. Transfer to large nonreactive pot. Add 5 cups water; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand uncovered overnight.

Measure lemon mixture (there should be about 5 1/2 cups). Return to same pot. Add equal amount of sugar (about 5 1/2 cups). Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Add pinch of salt. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Attach clip-on candy thermometer. Maintaining active boil and adjusting heat to prevent boiling over, cook until temperature reaches 230°F, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.


Pour into jars.  Cap and refrigerate marmalade or process in a water bath for 10 minutes for long term storage.  Unprocessed marmalade will keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks.


printable version:  lemon_marmalade.pdf


-- marcella


Pancakes

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Yesterday my brother in law and I were talking about how we enjoy all the wicked foods during the holidays but it was time to get back to healthy eating.

Then I made pancakes for breakfast this morning.  Probably not the most healthy breakfast choice.  Ok, so I'm a slow starter at this healthy eating thing.

This recipe is a favorite here for a couple of reasons.  First off, pancakes made from scratch are so simple and much tastier then those made from a mix.  Second, this recipe makes just enough pancakes for two people with no leftovers.  This way, I don't have a pile of leftover pancakes that I dutifully freeze and then we never eat and finally throw away when they are ice crusted and horrible.  Finally, these pancakes do contain a few healthy ingredients like whole grain flour and ground flaxseed which is reported to cure just about anything.  You can even jazz them up as we did by tossing in a handful of fresh blueberries.  Any chopped fruit or berry would be a tasty addition.

Oatmeal Pancakes


1/3 C whole wheat flour

3 T oatmeal

1 T ground flaxseed

1 T brown sugar

1/2 t baking powder

1/4 t ground cinnamon

1/8 t baking soda

dash of salt

1 egg, separated

1/2 C milk

1/2 t vanilla


In a mixing bowl stir together dry ingredients.


Stir together the milk, egg yolk and vanilla.  Mix into dry ingredients.


Whip the egg white until stiff peaks are formed.  Fold into batter.


Pour batter onto a hot skillet by 1/4 cupfuls.  Cook until bubbles form and then flip over to cook on the second side.


Makes 6 pancakes.


printable version:  pancakes.pdf


-- marcella