Monday, January 30, 2012

Perfect Lemon Bars

I have heard it said when it comes to desserts, "People are either chocolate or lemon lovers."  Personally, as someone who is generally hard pressed to turn down either, I can't authenticate these claims, but might have to venture that even those who fall into the chocolate camp might be won over to lemon (if even just temporarily) with these lemon bars.

I hesitate to use "Perfect" when it comes to describing most things, but seeing as that's the original name and the result was pretty impressive, I'll keep the name.  And, having tried (and failed on) multiple versions of lemon bars, I am excited to say that these are by far the most luxurious and lovely I've ever come across.

I will note that the source, Cook's Illustrated, stresses that the lemon filling should be added to the crust when it's still warm and seeing as they test their recipes like, 989 times before publishing them, I would certainly listen to that advice!

Perfect Lemon Bars
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar (plus more for decorating tops)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1" pieces, plus more for greasing the pan

Lemon Filling:
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest, from 2 large lemons
2/3 cup lemon juice from 3-4 large lemons, strained
1/3 cup whole milk
1/8 salt


  1. 1. For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Dot paper with butter, then lay second sheet crosswise over it.
  2. 2. Pulse flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. (To do this by hand, mix flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Freeze butter and grate it on large holes of box grater into flour mixture. Toss butter pieces to coat. Rub pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.) Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and, following illustration 2, press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4-inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  3. 3. For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.
  4. 4. To finish the bars: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Following illustrations 3 and 4, below, transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioners’ sugar over bars, if desired.
    Bars can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days.

    Recipe Source: Cook's Illustrated

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Garden Vegetable Soup

Due to a very welcome distraction from real life (our most dear friends were in town visiting), I am extending "Soup Week" just a bit.  Soup or no soup, I felt like this had to be included in the month of January.  I don't know how many of us have already fallen off of our New Years' Resolutions already, but knowing that common ones are to eat healthier and add more vegetables to our diet, this soup might be the perfect remedy.

It's actually a spin on the Weight Watchers Zero Point Vegetable Soup recipe, which although I've not done Weight Watchers, I know that Zero Points means you can eat as much as you want and not feel guilty.

Make up a big pot (the recipe is huge!) of this soup and enjoy healthy lunches all week long or freeze in individual portions for a quick reheat.  Resolution or no resolution, this one will have you feeling good.  

Garden Vegetable Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced (optional)
2 stalks celery, diced
6 cups vegetable juice (V-8 reduced sodium recommended brand)
6 cups beef (or vegetable) broth
1 large red potato, scrubbed and diced
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
1/2 cup pearled barley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small head of cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds) roughly chopped
1/2 pound frozen cut green beans
1 head kale, leaves washed stems removed and torn into bite sized pieces (optional)
1 large zucchini, cut into half moons (optional)

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Saute garlic, onion, carrots and parsnip (if using) until vegetables begin to soften.  Add in celery, vegetable juice, broth, potato, mushrooms, barley and thyme.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Simmer until potato and barley are tender.  Stir in cabbage, green beans, kale and zucchini (if using) and cook an additional five minutes or until cabbage and zucchini are tender.  Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper if needed.

Adapted from: A Veggie Venture

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Garlic-Potato Soup

I am officially declaring this "Soup Week."  The Discovery Channel has "Shark Week," think of it like that--only more delicious.  

January feels like the right time for such a thing as "Soup Week" since right about now we long for cozy foods.  And speaking of cozy, I think this soup might just be the big comfy sweater of soups.  It is thick and comforting, hearty but not overwhelming.  The garlic is not at all overpowering but instead lends a complex and deeply layered flavor to this potato soup.  

 I made the vegetarian version of this recipe but I can't wait to try it again with the chicken broth variation as the recipe's source (Cook's Illustrated, one of my most favorite recipe resources!) says that it is even more delicious made with chicken broth (hard to imagine for as much as we liked the vegetarian version).  I might also be tempted to top a non-vegetarian version of this soup with some cheese and bacon bits and turn it into a baked potato soup but the garlic chips and chives are a lovely garnish as well!
Garlic-Potato Soup (with make ahead variation)

Soup Base
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 medium leek , white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and chopped small (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 heads garlic , rinsed, papery skins removed and top third of heads cut off and discarded
6 cups low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 pound Red Bliss potatoes (unpeeled), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups

For Reheating Soup
1 cup low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh chives

Garlic Chips
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic , sliced thin lengthwise
table salt

1. TO MAKE SOUP BASE: Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add leeks and cook until soft (do not brown), 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic heads, 6 cups broth, bay leaves, and 3/4 teaspoon salt; partially cover pot and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until garlic is very tender when pierced with tip of knife, 30 to 40 minutes. Add potatoes, partially cover pot, and bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat. Take pot off heat and let rest 10 minutes. Separate soup into 2 storage containers and freeze up to 1 month.

  1. 2. TO REHEAT AND SERVE: Run hot water over surface of storage containers to help release frozen blocks of soup. Add soup and 1 cup broth to large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup is hot and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Remove garlic heads; using tongs or paper towels, squeeze garlic heads at root end until cloves slip out of their skins. Using fork, mash garlic to smooth paste in bowl.
  2. 3. Stir cream, thyme, and half of mashed garlic into soup; heat soup until hot, about 2 minutes. Taste soup; add remaining garlic paste if desired. Using immersion blender, process soup until creamy, with some potato chunks remaining. Alternatively, transfer 1 1/2 cups potatoes and 1 cup broth to blender or food processor and process until smooth. (Process more potatoes for thicker consistency.) Return puree to pot and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve, sprinkling each portion with chives and garlic chips.
  3. For Garlic Chips
    Heat oil and garlic in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, turning frequently, until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic to plate lined with paper towels; discard oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

    Recipe Source: Cook's Illustrated

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicken Wild Rice Soup: reprised

This is not the first time this recipe has been posted.  Back in October of 2010, this Chicken Wild Rice Soup made an appearance on The Open Fridge.  It's being re-featured for a few reasons:

The recipe was requested quite a bit when I served it at my book club this past weekend.  When I host, I really like to tie the food to the themes of the book and the book we read, These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich, takes place in Northern Minnesota during the 1930's and what is more Minnesotan than wild rice soup?  Nothing, I tell you, nothing.  Well, except maybe hot dish with three different kinds of canned "Cream of ... Soups" or bars for dessert--which I also served, so there). 

In this updated version, I've included a Gluten-free variation (see below). 

It is one of my all-time favorites and deserves another day in the sun.  

Chicken Wild Rice Soup
2 cups cooked wild rice (cook according to package directions or can substitute a boxed rice mix)
3 tablespoons butter 
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons all purpose flour 
1 cup finely chopped ham
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
 salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half (or heavy cream or canned evaporated milk)

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots and celery, season with pepper and garlic powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and vegetables are becoming tender (3-5 minutes).  

Add ham and flour.  It will "seize up" into a mass.  Continue cooking, stirring constantly for another couple of minutes to remove the raw taste from the flour.  

After about 2 minutes, slowly stir in chicken broth, a little at a time, stirring constantly so that the flour-vegetable mixture is smoothly incorporated into the broth.  

Raise heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and stir in cooked rice and chicken.  Allow to simmer until vegetables are tender.  Shortly before serving, stir in half and half or cream and allow to gently heat through without boiling.  Adjust salt and pepper as desired.

The quantities are easily doubled to make soup for a crowd or you can divide it in half and freeze a portion to be available another time.  

This is definitely not the super-thick version that you may have come across at restaurants or hanging out in kettles at supermarkets.  If you want something closer to that, increase the flour and butter significantly--maybe 1/2 cup each?--and make sure to stir constantly when you are bringing the soup to a boil (almost like you're making a white sauce) and use the heavy cream in place of the half and half.  Whoa, it'll be rich! 

For a Gluten-Free variation: Omit the flour and just sauté the vegetables and ham mixture until vegetables start to become tender.  Stir in broth and continue as directed above until step of adding half and half.  In a small bowl, place 2-3 tablespoons corn starch.  Whisk in a small amount of half and half until you have a smooth mixture.  Stir into the soup to thicken slightly and add remaining half and half.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creamy Edamame Dip

Last weekend, we got to go over to my in-laws' house for a big Sunday dinner to visit with some relatives that were visiting from out of town.  Another cousin who lives in the area and his girlfriend came over as well.  As they pulled up, we remembered that they were vegetarians coming into a menu of roast beef and scalloped potatoes.  Uh oh.  Luckily, they came prepared with some of their own food to round out the sides and one of the things they brought was edamame dip.

This might be one that could get some turned up noses at first glance--edamame?  Dip?  If you give it a chance, however, you will find a deliciously satisfying dip that everyone in my household (big and small) couldn't get enough of.  I liked it so much I ate it on crackers in lieu of dessert that day, went out and made my own version the next day and it was a happy part of both of my sons' lunches the following day.

Just to clarify, edamame are green soy beans that are often found in the shell in Japanese restaurants as an appetizer.  They're high in protein and are a great snack or addition to a salad in themselves but this dip takes them to a whole other level.  The texture is similar to hummus but the flavor is faintly Asian with hints of the teriyaki sauce that adds a savory punch.

Serve it with crackers, pita bread or cut veggies.

Creamy Edamame Dip
1 (10 oz) bag frozen, shelled edamame
2 tablespoons bottled teriyaki sauce (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or more as needed)
1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
1/2-1 whole jalapeño, seeds and membranes removed and chopped into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 small fresh garlic clove, smashed
salt and black pepper to taste

Cook shelled edamame in the microwave according to package directions until tender.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients, including the edamame and blend on medium high speed until mixture is smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides and adjust for taste as needed.  If mixture is particularly thick and having trouble blending, you can add 1-2 tablespoons of water (or additional olive oil) as needed

Recipe inspired by cousin Ryan V.  : )

Monday, January 9, 2012

Beef and Broccoli Lo Mein

This blog has been a rather dormant place lately. Between the holidays and other recent craziness, I have not been doing much cooking.  With a new week starting, I am resolving to get back to cooking and hopefully, sharing what we've been eating.  May I also take this opportunity to wish you a belated New Year!

Tonight it was Beef and Broccoli Lo Mein.  I have to admit that Chinese food is not my favorite of the Asian cuisines.  That said, two of my favorite Chinese dishes would have to be Beef with Broccoli and Lo Mein.  I was pretty intrigued when looking for a use for some flank steak (a surprisingly delicious, relatively economical cut), I came across a Cooking Light recipe that combined the two into a super-power entree.  It did not disappoint and there were no leftovers.

Beef and Broccoli Lo Mein
serves about 4
4 cups hot cooked linguini (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut or other neutral vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups broccoli florets
1 1/2 cups vertically sliced onion
1 (1-pound) flank steak, trimmed and cut across the grain into about 2" long, thin strips
salt and pepper
1/4 cup beef or chicken broth
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon chile paste with garlic

1.  Combine pasta and sesame oil, tossing well to coat; set aside.
2. Stir together soy sauce, brown sugar, oyster sauce and chile garlic paste together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add ginger and garlic, sauté about 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add broccoli and onion, sauté 2 minutes.  Pour beef broth over broccoli mixture, turn heat to high and allow to cook until the broth is almost evaporated and broccoli is crisp-tender.
Remove from pan and set aside.  Heat remaining tablespoon of oil over high heat until shimmering.  Generously pepper steak slices and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Cook steak in a single layer about 3-5 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.  Return broccoli mixture to pan and top with cooked pasta.  Pour sauce mixture over top of pasta and cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly.

Recipe adapted from The Best of Cooking Light