Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tangy Lemon Bars

I love a good tangy lemon bar, so when I found this recipe, I thought it was definitely something I needed to try!  The recipe is from Alice Medrich's book, Pure Dessert, and according to Ms. Medrich, a food critic at one point claimed that these bars were "too sour".  Too sour?  Definitely sounds perfect to me, as I like my lemon treats to be very lemon-y.

Very Tangy Lemon Bars
adapted from Pure Desserts

7 TB unsalted butter, melted
2 TB sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour

1 cup + 2 TB sugar
3 TB all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained

Preheat oven to 350.  Line the inside of an 8x8-inch baking pan with foil or parchment, or butter the inside of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. 

Crust:  In a medium bowl, combine first 4 crust ingredients (all except flour).  Add the flour and mix until just combined.  Spread the dough evenly in the bottom of the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is browned at the edges and golden in the center.  Turn the oven down to 300F.

Topping:  Start the topping while the crust bakes.  Stir together the sugar and flour.  Whisk in the eggs.  Add lemon juice and lemon zest and stir until combined. 

When the crust is finished baking (and still in the oven), slide out the oven rack, pour the filling on top of the hot crust and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center no longer jiggles.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before slicing.  If the top comes out looking a bit frothy, gently blot it with a paper towel.  Slice with a sharp knife into 16 large squares or 25 smaller squares, or whatever size you wish.  Dust the top with powdered sugar if you wish.

NOTE:  If using Meyer lemons, reduce the sugar in the topping to 1/2 cup plus 2 TB.
Printable Recipe

I used Meyer lemons and found that the recipe was not tart enough for me.  I think it is an issue of me preferring regular tart lemons to Meyer lemons, nothing about this recipe.  Reviews of this recipe claim that it is wonderfully tart, so I will definitely make it again with regular tart lemons. 

Give it a shot!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Birds Nest Cookies

The clever girl has an Easter party at school tomorrow, and of course I signed up to bring cookies!  I wanted to do something that might look like Easter eggs, and after some brainstorming, I came up with birds nest cookies.  A good friend of mine makes "haystack" cookies for parties, so I took what she does, changed it up a tad, and made it into birds nest cookies!

These are perfect cookies to make with a kiddo.  There is no baking involved, thus no hot oven and no waiting to see the finished product!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fuzzy Baby Blanket Tutorial

I have been making these fuzzy baby blankets for a while, and finally decided to (a) get them onto the blog, and (b) make one for Button (my little one due very soon)!  They are super easy and fast to make, so get ready...

What you see here is enough for 2 baby blankets.

You need:
1 1/4 yards of a novelty cotton fabric (above it is the birdy fabric, in the top photo it is the one with blue and green animals)
1 1/4 yards of fuzzy "minky"-like fabric.  At Jo-Anns, this fabric is called "Soft and Comfy", "Ultra Cuddle" or "Soft and Fluffy" or something like that.  This is a good item to use a coupon for, as it can be a bit pricy!
1 package of Blanket Binding
matching thread

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Birthday Surprise - Tiramisu!

A very good friend of mine (I'll call her B) recently had a birthday!  Prior to her actual birthday, her mother (who lives out of town) called me to see if I would help plan a surprise girls night out dinner for B to celebrate.  Of course I would!  Over the course of a couple of weeks, the mom, husband, and I deviously planned a get-together for B.  The best part, other than the dessert, which I promise I will get to, is that the surprise dinner gave me the excuse to spend an afternoon with B.  My strategy for getting her out of the house was that I was totally stressed out with being pregnant and building a house and having way too much stuff on my plate (which is unfortunately all true!) and needed some girl-time.  So we spent an afternoon together and then I took her to dinner, where another 6 of our friends happened to be waiting!

Honestly, if you are a busy mom like we both happen to be, how often do you get to spend an entire afternoon hanging out with a girl-friend?  Extremely rarely, in our cases.  So it was a beautiful gift to spend the day with my friend!

Anyway, in the planning of this happy event, B's mother mentioned that B's favorite dessert was tiramisu.  Mmmm.  We happen to share that favorite, I must admit.  And it just so happens that for Thanksgiving I had dinner with some friends who served the best tiramisu I had ever eaten (and honestly, I have eaten a LOT of tiramisu) and I had gotten the recipe!  A perfect opportunity to try out this recipe for myself!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Mocha Chocolate Chips

The recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie was Mocha Chocolate Chips.  Essentially, they are a chocolate chip cookie with some coffee and dried fruit added in.  I was not impressed.

I made the recipe as written (for the most part) the first go-around.  The recipe called for dried apricots.  It made about 4 dozen cookies, so I split the dough in half and used dried apricots for half and dried cherries for the other half.  I think the flavors of tart cherry and chocolate complement each other very well.  In addition, the recipe called for whatever darkness (or lightness) of chocolate you prefer, so I used 70% bittersweet for mine.  You actually use chocolate bars and then break them into nice sized chunks for these cookies, you do not use chocolate chips.  Oh, and the recipe calls for 2-3 TB instant coffee, and I used 2 TB.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Donut Bread Pudding

We recently had a function at church wherein we had tons and tons of donut-holes.  There were plenty left over, so I thought I'd take them home and see what I could do with them.  I am one of those very rare people (it seems) that does not really care for donuts.  I know, it is weird.  I just think there are so many other better pastries out there, why should I eat a donut?  Plus donuts tend to be too sweet for me.  Anyway, home I came with a bunch of regular glazed donut-holes and glazed chocolate donut-holes.

My idea was to make a bread pudding and I found a good recipe to try at Leite's Culinaria.  I had enough donut-holes to make 2 batches of bread pudding, so since the recipe called for dark rum, I made one batch WITH rum and one WITHOUT, just in case.  I say just in case because my intention was to bring these back to church and I wanted to be certain that those who prefer to not ingest alcohol had an option. 

Donut Bread Pudding
adapted from Leite's Culinaria
For the pudding:
6 cups day-old raised donuts, cut into 1-inch pieces (or 6 cups donut-holes)
4 large eggs
2 TB dark rum or 1/2 teaspoon rum extract (optional) 
1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
For the icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 TB hot water

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Place the donuts in the loaf pan.  In a bowl, whisk the eggs, rum (if using), cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla until well blended.  Whisk in the milk and cream.  Pour over the donuts, turning the top pieces over and pressing down gently so all of the donuts become soaked in the mixture.

Bake until firm and browned on top, approximately 50 minutes.  Cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.

While the pudding cools, whisk the icing ingredients together in a small bowl.  Serve pudding in thick slices, warm, drizzled with icing. 
Printable Recipe

While the recipe claims that this makes 6 servings, I cut a LOT more than that.  I think 6 servings would be ginormous and way more than I could handle, personally.  So figure that you'll get however many servings as you want to slice in your loaf pan. 

Oh, and you may be wondering how this went over at church?
A picture is worth 1000 words!  I realized I hadn't photographed the plates so I ran out to take a picture and this is what was left!  They were devoured!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - more croissants!

This isn't actually a Tuesday's with Dorie week, but since we did croissants last week and I only used half of the dough for the regular croissants, I figured I would post the Almond and the Chocolate croissants this week!  First of all, lets start off with YUM.  Oh, and by jumping up and down in excitement that I actually made croissants, including almond and chocolate ones!  I really feel like I made a big baking accomplishment! 

If you recall from my post on croissants, when you get to step 5, you have finished the croissant dough and it is shaped like a book.  You cut that book in half and now you have two mini-books.  With the first mini-book, I made regular croissants.  With the second mini-book, I made almond and chocolate croissants! 

To start, I made the almond filling.  It is made of room temperature butter, ground almonds, confectioners sugar, corn starch and almond extract.  This is mixed up in a food processor and then refrigerated so it can firm up.  It is supposed to refrigerate for an hour or two, but I was anxious to get these done so I put my mixture in the freezer while I rolled out the dough and made the chocolate croissants. 

I rolled the dough out the same way, but this time cut it into some triangles (with a 4 inch base this time) for the almond croissants, and some rectangles for the chocolate croissants.  I used the diagonal scraps from the triangle and initially stuck them together to make more triangles, and then stuck the triangles together make a rectangle!  Thank you, junior high geometry class!  The squished together triangles are in the upper left corner of this photo.

Then it was time to roll the chocolate croissants.  The actual recipe suggests that you use chocolate batons but I didn't have those nor did I actually look for them in the store.  However, if I was ever to make chocolate croissants again, I would definitely find the batons.  It is very tricky to roll chocolate chips in pastry dough without having them fall out all over the place!  Plus, the recipe calls for an ounce of chocolate, which is quite a lot!  Chocolate croissants get rolled into a tube, not a typical croissant shape.  I have no idea why that is, do you?

After the rectangles were all filled with chocolate, it was time to make the almond croissants.  Now, I have to admit that almond croissants are my favorite.  If I am going to purchase a croissant, my first choice will always be almond.  I am a huge fan.  For the almond croissants, you use one tablespoon of almond filling per croissant, and I found that the filling recipe made enough for approximately 10 croissants.  Not enough for me, but plenty for the way I made this recipe.  Almond croissants are rolled up just like a regular croissant, in the typical shape. 

The croissants are placed on a parchment covered baking sheet, brushed with egg wash, and allowed to rise for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.  They went in the turned-off oven with a pan of steaming water underneath, just as the regular croissants did.  However with this batch, some of the butter seemed to leak out while rising...  I am not sure what the difference was or why this batch had some butter leakage and the first batch did not.  The only thing I can think is that it was more humid when I made these so maybe the humidity plus the steaming water was too much?  Regardless, I carefully wiped up the bits of leaked butter (the almond ones leaked more than the chocolate ones) and then brushed them again with egg wash.  I sprinkled more crushed almonds and some slivered almonds on the almond croissants, and sprinkled some vanilla sugar on the chocolate ones.  Then I baked them as I did the first batch. 

And here they are!  The chocolate croissant on the bottom right is the one made of the random scraps of dough... not so pretty but according to the clever girl, it was delicious!  I have to admit that I prefer the almond ones to the chocolate ones...  I almost feel like the chocolate ones are just a bit much for me, which I know is totally crazy.  Too much chocolate?  That is just ridiculous!

Yum.  What a divine treat!  It was definitely some work, but such an accomplishment! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Easy Chicken Enchiladas

I have found an easy, yummy way to make chicken enchiladas!  I didn't come up with it myself, but stumbled upon it during one of my weekly quests for dinner inspiration online.  The recipe comes from Add A Pinch

Chicken Enchiladas
adapted from Add A Pinch
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 3-4 breasts
1 10-oz. can + 1 14-oz. can enchilada sauce
1 8-oz. can green chiles
1/2 medium onion, diced
8 10-inch flour tortillas OR about 15 6-inch flour tortillas
12 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
2 green onions, chopped for topping (optional)
cilantro, chopped for topping (optional)
avocado, sliced for topping (optional)
sour cream, for topping (optional)

Spray a slow cooker insert with cooking spray.  Add chicken to insert and pour smaller can of enchilada sauce over the chicken.  (If the chicken isn't totally covered, add more from the second can of sauce.)  Cook on high setting for 4 hours or low setting for 8 hours.  Shred chicken with a fork in the enchilada sauce.  Drain green chiles and add to the chicken with the diced onion.  Mix well to combine.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Spoon chicken mixture into the center of each flour tortilla.  Top with a generous sprinkle of cheese and fold the ends of the tortilla over the filled center.  Place the tortilla seam side down into the baking dish.  Repeat until all tortillas have been filled, or you run out of chicken filing, whichever comes first.  Pour the second can of enchilada sauce over the assembled tortillas.  Sprinkle more grated cheese over the top.  Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and has gotten bubbly. 

Garnish with chosen toppings.
Printable Recipe

This was so good and so easy!  I used smaller tortillas that are made in my grocery store (and are amazingly yummy) and ended up using more than just a 9x13 pan.  I used another pan, maybe a 7x11, for the rest.  Sorry, it has been a while and I can't totally remember, but it all depends on the size of your tortillas and how fat you stuff them!

I am definitely going to try this again with a green chile/cilantro sauce or something.  You could totally spice these up and change them around, or just eat them as is, which is delicious!  Go for it!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Crossants

I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated to attempt making Croissants.  They are so light and flaky and buttery - is this something I could truly accomplish?  Plus, when reading through the recipe, there were many steps involved with lots of resting/refrigerating/proofing times - this was an intensive project to undertake.  However, I refused to be intimidated by this recipe!  After putting it off again and again, I finally dug in and got started in making croissants. 

In Baking with Julia, this recipe actually spans several pages.  The dough recipe is on pages 52-54, while the shaping and baking recipe is on pages 185-186.  You may also find the recipe on our host's blog, Girl + Food = Love

Step 1:  Make the dough
My first quandary with this recipe was with the yeast.  It calls for fresh yeast, which I could not find in my grocery store and didn't have the energy to go shopping around to find.  After some internet research I decided to substitute half the amount of active dry yeast.  Since the recipe called for an ounce of fresh yeast, I used a half ounce of active dry yeast and hoped for the best!  It worked!  I mixed the active dry yeast into about 1/4 cup of warm milk and let it sit for a bit before using.  Then the yeast, flour, sugar, salt, and remaining milk were put into the mixer to get moving.  Let me tell you, my poor mixer did not appreciate this at all!  Soothing words seemed to help and she turned out what appeared to be appropriate dough - smooth, elastic, and sort of like the consistency of soft butter.  Phew!  (By the way, I strongly feel that my mixer needs a name.  Any suggestions out there??  My sewing machine is named Ruby, what should my mixer be named???  Help!)

Once the dough was formed, it was wrapped in plastic wrap and a plastic bag, allowed to sit for 30 minutes, and then refrigerated overnight.  Step 1 complete!

Step 2:  The butter!
As you know, a crucial element of croissants is BUTTER.  And lots of it!  For this step, I mixed 4 1/2 sticks of butter and 2 TB flour in my poor un-named mixer, which again she didn't seem to appreciate that much.  I think this is because the butter was cold so it was in hard cubes for a while before it all squished down and became more pliable.  Anyway, the butter is mixed and mixed until it is about the same consistency as the dough from above, then it is refrigerated until needed.  None with Step 2!

Step 3: Incorporating the butter
Here is where your arm work-out begins!  First, the dough is rolled out into an oval about 10 inches wide by 17 inches long.  Then you plop the butter in the middle...

... and wrap it up like a package!  What a fine package that would be!  Now the fun part, beat it with your rolling pin!  The goal here is to spread the butter out evenly along the inside of your dough, so you beat it with your rolling pin to do so.  At this point, your dough is about 1-inch thick, and the rectangle is approximately 14 inches long and 6 inches wide.

 Step 4:  Rolling, folding, and more rolling and folding!
Remember the arm workout I mentioned?  Here we go.  The rectangle from Step 3 needs to be rolled into a bigger rectangle, 24-26 inches long by 14 inches wide.  This takes some work!  Plus a large place for rolling.  The good thing about this project is it confirmed my decision to have the kitchen island in my new kitchen built at a regular counter height, no taller.  It had been suggested that I could do taller for the island but after rolling out this dough, shorter would be better!  Maybe in a future kitchen I can have an island with two different levels - a regular one and then a shorter one for rolling out dough...  Hmmm.  Am I already designing a new house when my current new house isn't even built yet?  Someone take me to the looney-bin immediately!  

So I digress.  Apologies.  Once you have your giant rectangle, fold it into thirds like a brochure which is now about 8 inches wide by 14 inches long, put it on a parchment covered baking sheet, and put it into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  I marked the pan "1 turn" and then "2 turns" because guess what?  After those 2 hours are over, you take that dough out of the refrigerator, roll it into the same giant rectangle again, fold it up, and put it back in the refrigerator! 

This time, once you take it out of the refrigerator and roll it out into a gigantic rectangle again, you are finished making mere brochures, you create a BOOK!  Fold both ends in towards the middle and then fold the dough in half, making a book.  The "spine"of the book is closer to the rolling pin, and the "pages" are towards the bottom of the above photo.  Wrap it up in plastic and refrigerate for another 2 hours!

Now we can finally turn to the second section of pages for this recipe!  The above part was all in pages 52-54... now we turn to pages 185-186!

Step 5:  Cutting croissants
Well, actually, before you can cut the dough into croissants, you have to ROLL IT OUT AGAIN!  Yes, just when you thought your arms could take no more, we roll another rectangle.  Guess what?  This one is EVEN BIGGER than the last.  First, cut your "book" in half width-wise, leaving you with a rectangle that is about 6 inches wide by 7 inches long (it used to be 14 inches long by 6 inches wide.)  Use one piece of that dough and refrigerate the other half.  Now we are rolling a rectangle that is 20-24 inches long and 15-18 inches wide.  This takes a lot of work and a lot of flour for the work space!  Once you have said giant rectangle, fold it in half so you now have a rectangle that is 20-24 inches long and 7 1/2-9 inches wide.  

Get a very sharp knife or pizza cutter and trim one side of the dough on the diagonal a bit to start the triangular shapes.  The base of each triangle should be 3-4 inches wide.  I did 3 inch bases, which I think was not the best choice.  When I do the second half of the "book" I'll make the bases 4 inches I think.  Since you folded the dough onto itself before cutting, you actually have two triangles stacked up in each layer.  Separate the triangles and now you can start rolling croissants!

Stretch the base of the triangle slightly, then stretch the length of the triangle to about double the original length.  Pinch a bit of dough from the scrap you trimmed in starting and ending your diagonals, roll it into an oval and put it on the base of the triangle.  Fold the top piece over and start rolling.  Roll and pull a bit to the sides at the same time, until you have rolled up the entire piece and you have what looks like a croissant!  Place that beauty on a parchment lined baking sheet and curl the tips down so it is "C" shaped like a croissant!  Ta-da!  Do this for the remaining triangles, leaving lots of space between croissants on the baking sheet for rising.  Brush with an egg wash and then let them rise in a turned-off oven with a pan of steaming hot water underneath for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.  

Step 6:  Baking, finally!
Once the croissants have risen, brush them again with egg wash and bake at 350F for 12 minutes.  Then rotate the pans top to bottom and back to front, and bake another 4-6 minutes (6 for me) until they are golden browned.  Cool on racks completely before eating.  VERY DIFFICULT!  

Though the recipe states that the croissants are best the day they are made and should be frozen immediately if not eaten, I kept them in an airtight bag and then popped them into the toaster oven the next day and they turned out perfectly.  Nice and warm and crispy.  So, do what you like!

Can you believe it?  I made croissants!  They are light and buttery and wonderful.  The clever girl ate a bite and opened her eyes wide, flung open her arms, and said "Momma!  These are DELICIOUS!  Wow!".  (Have I ever mentioned that the clever girl is full of drama?)  Regardless, I appreciate the sentiment!  

In plan on making some almond croissants and some chocolate croissants with the remaining half of my dough "book" but that will be fodder for another post I think, as I haven't gotten to it quite yet!

Please visit the Tuesdays with Dorie blog and click on the LYL:Croissants tab to see what other bloggers thought of this recipe!

And, if you have any ideas as to what to name my poor mixer, please help!

Friday, March 1, 2013


Aebleskivers came into my life with my husband.  They are a Christmas tradition in his family, so when we started merging holiday traditions, aebleskivers entered my home.  And boy am I glad they did!  If you have never seen an aebleskiver before, they are sort of a mix between a pancake and a popover.  They are solid like a pancake but they are light and fluffy like a popover.  And yes, they are shaped like little spheres.  They are Danish, and come from Mr. Clever Mom's mother's background.  Oh, and we pronounce them ay-bel-skee-ver.  I have no idea if that is accurate or not, but that is how it's done in my house!

I find aebleskivers to be fun, as they provide you with a complete variety of things you can do with them.  Start with what to put in them - they can be plain or you could drop some fruit or jam in the middle and let the sphere form around the fruit.  You can also serve them with a myriad of topping choices - cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, jam, syrup, peanut butter, truly anything you devise!

The one thing you must have in order to make aebleskivers is an aebleskiver pan.  A while back, I purchased one at Williams Sonoma, but they are readily available in kitchen specialty shops or probably on Amazon.  That particular pan is light-weight and has a non-stick coating.  We recently acquired another aebleskiver pan, which is cast iron.  Both work really well.  I find that I need a bit more butter in the cast iron one (and it is awfully heavy) but they seem to create equally good aebleskivers.  If you are not ready to increase the number of random pans in your kitchen, you can also use this batter in a waffle iron.  The recipe makes lovely puffy waffles!  I used a traditional waffle iron (not a Belgium waffle iron).