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June 2011

World's Best Lemon Squares

Lemon bars

 
World’s Best Lemon Squares

Also known as Lemon Bars, these sweet, buttery, tart confections are synonymous with summer. They are easy to throw together and transport which makes them perfect to take to barbecues or picnics. I’ve tried numerous variations and I prefer the creamy texture that this recipe’s filling delivers - and the shortbread-like crust absolutely melts in your mouth.

Download Worlds Best Lemon Squares recipe

The Crust

1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars

¼ cup cornstarch

¾ teaspoon table salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), at very cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing pan

 

Lemon Filling

4 large eggs, beaten lightly

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest from 2 large lemons

2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained

1/3 cup whole milk

1/8 teaspoon table salt

 For the crust:

1.  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 press second sheet crosswise over it .

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. Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and 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.

For the filling:

1. While the crust bakes, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well; set aside until crust is baked.

To finish the bars:

1. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture to re-blend; pour carefully 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.

2. 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.

Lemon Bars Sheet
Lemon Squares Cut


My New Favorite Best Banana Nut Muffins

Banana Nut Muffins

My New Favorite Best Banana Nut Muffin

I have a couple of fool proof favorite banana bread recipes, but they never seem to translate into a winning muffin. After reading dozens of recipes, I finally settled on one that I found in the Joy of Cooking cookbook. It’s a perfectly tender, lightly sweetened muffin with great banana flavor and a nicely domed top – making it my new favorite banana muffin recipe.

Download My New Favorite Best Banana Nut Muffin recipe

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in oven, cooled and chopped

1 large egg

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas (2 to 3 large)

6 Tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375°F and adjust rack to middle position. Put muffin liners in a 12-cup muffin tin and lightly mist with non stick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg. Stir in chopped nuts.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, sugars, mashed bananas, oil, and vanilla.

4. Make a well in center of dry ingredients and pour in liquid mixture. Gently stir with a large wooden spoon until just combined – do not overmix.

5. Divide the batter equally among the muffin cups.

6. Bake until the muffins are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 16- 18 minutes.

7. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes and serve warm or remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

8. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or wrap individually and freeze for up to 1 month.

Banana nut muffin batter
Banana Nut Muffin Baked
Banana Nut Muffins Cooling


Fresh Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits and Whipped Cream

  Fresh Strawberry Shortcake Cream

Strawberry Shortcake seemed to always mark the beginning of summer when I was growing up. Although we get strawberries almost year round in California, they always taste best in early summer. We always made our “shortcake” with biscuits. This is a pretty foolproof method. When you stir slightly cooled melted butter into cold buttermilk, the butter will clump. Although this might look like a mistake, it's one of the secrets to this recipe.

Download Fresh Strawberry Shortcake Homemade Biscuits Whipped Cream

Biscuits

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces) 

2 teaspoons baking powder  

1/2 teaspoon baking soda  

2 teaspoons sugar  (plus more for sprinkling)

3/4 teaspoon table salt

1 cup buttermilk (cold) 

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (about 5 minutes)

1.    Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl.  Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps.

2.    Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure (or a #16 ice cream scoop), scoop level amount of batter and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (biscuits should measure about 2 1/4 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches high). Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Sprinkles tops with granulated or turbinado sugar. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes.

Strawberries

3 pints fresh strawberries, hulled; 1 pint crushed with potato masher or fork, 2 pints quartered

1/2 - 3/4 cup granulated sugar 

1.    Mix crushed and quartered berries with sugar in medium bowl; set aside while preparing biscuits (or up to 2 hours).

 

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream , chilled (preferably pasteurized or pasteurized organic)

1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1.    Chill nonreactive, deep, 1- to 1 1/2-quart bowl and beaters for a handheld mixer in freezer for at least 20 minutes. Add cream, sugar, and vanilla to chilled bowl; beat on low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium; continue beating until beaters leave a trail, about 30 seconds more. Increase speed to high; continue beating until cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating by hand to adjust consistency. (Can be transferred to fine sieve or strainer set over measuring cup and refrigerated up to 8 hours).

2. Split each cake crosswise; spoon a portion of berries and juice and then a dollop of whipped cream over each cake bottom. Cap with cake top; serve immediately.

Shortcake dough
Shortcake balls
Shortcake baked


Perfect Mixed Berry Salad with Simple Syrup

FRUIT SALAD 1

Simple syrup is incredibly handy and can be used to sweeten fruit salad as well as your favorite summer drinks. It lasts for a couple of months in the refrigerator and you can create a variety of flavors. Just add fresh mint, ginger root, lemon, lime or orange zest to create new flavors – I like using fresh mint with mixed berries.

Download Perfect Mixed Berry Salad with Simple Syrup recipe

Simple Syrup

½ cup sugar

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon chopped Fresh mint (or other flavor from list above)

Fruit:

2 cups fresh blueberries

1 ½ cups fresh blackberries

1 ½ cups fresh raspberries

½ cup white grapes, sliced in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional)

1. Bring sugar, water and mint to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat and cook until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Transfer syrup to airtight container and refrigerate until needed.

2. Toss berries in serving bowl and add 2-3 tablespoons of simple syrup (and optional Grand Marnier) and mix gently to combine.

 


Classic Alsatian Onion and Bacon Tart

Onion tart slice

This is a very typical recipe from the Alsace region of France. I made over the weekend for a friend’s mother and she raved about it. Although there are just a few ingredients, it has outstanding flavor - perfect for a Sunday brunch. The secret is slow cooking the onions until they are very soft.f

Download Alsatian Onion and Bacon Tart recipe

CRUST

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon table salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes and well chilled

2 - 3 tablespoons ice water

 

FILLING

4 ounces bacon (about 4 slices), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds yellow or white onions, halved through root end, peeled, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices (about 6 cups)

1 sprig fresh thyme

3/4 teaspoon table salt

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne

2 large eggs

1/2 cup half-and-half

1/4 teaspoon ground white or black pepper

 

FOR THE CRUST:

1. Spray 9-inch tart pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor with four 1-second pulses. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse sand, about fifteen 1-second pulses.

 

2. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and process until large clumps form and no powdery bits remain, about 5 seconds, adding up to 1 tablespoon more water if dough will not form clumps.

3. Scatter walnut-sized clumps of dough evenly into tart pan. Working outward from the center, press the dough into even layer, sealing any cracks. (Take your time with these steps, it will ensure that the dough does not crack during baking.) Work your way around the edge of tart pan and press the dough firmly into the corners with your index finger.  Go around edge once more, pressing dough up sides and into fluted ridges. Use your thumb to level off top edge. Use this dough to patch any holes. Lay plastic wrap over dough and smooth out any bumps or shallow areas

4. Place tart shell on plate and transfer to freezer for 30 minutes.

5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Place frozen tart shell on baking sheet; lightly spray one side of 18-inch square extra-wide heavy-duty aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray. Press foil greased side down inside tart shell, folding excess foil over edge of pan. Fill with pie weights and bake until top edge just starts to color and surface of dough under foil no longer looks wet, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully remove foil and weights by gathering edges of foil and pulling up and out. Return baking sheet with tart shell to oven and bake until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Set baking sheet with tart shell on wire rack. Do not turn off oven.

 FOR THE FILLING:

1. While crust is baking, cook bacon in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain bacon through mesh strainer set over small bowl; transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Return 2 tablespoons bacon fat to skillet, adding vegetable oil to make up difference if necessary.

2. Add onions, salt, nutmeg, cayenne and thyme to skillet. Cover and cook until onions release liquid and start to wilt, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, covered, until onions are very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice (if after 15 minutes onions look wet, remove lid and continue to cook another 5 minutes). Remove pan from heat and let onions cool 5 minutes.

3. Whisk eggs, half-and-half, and pepper together in large bowl. Remove thyme sprig from onions; discard. Stir onions into egg mixture until just incorporated. Spread onion mixture over baked crust (still on baking sheet) and sprinkle bacon evenly on top.

4. Return baking sheet with tart to oven and bake until center of tart feels firm to touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 10 minutes. When ready to serve, remove tart pan ring; gently slide thin-bladed spatula between tart pan bottom and crust to loosen, then slide tart to serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve. Leftovers should be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Reheat on a baking sheet in a 325-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Onions skillet
Alsatian onion tart


Refreshing Cucumber Mint Water

Cucumber Mint Water 5

This is a refreshing thirst quenching recipe from one of my favorite healthy chefs, Ellie Krieger. Flavored waters are the rage these days and make a great alternative to sugary soft drinks. Feel free to substitute agave for the sugar, just stir it in with the lemon juice.

Download Refreshing Cucumber Mint Water recipe

 
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves

2 Tbs. granulated sugar, optional

1 cup boiling water

1 medium English cucumber (about 1 lb.), peeled, seed core removed, and cut into chunks (2 1/2 cups)

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Cold water as required

1. Put the mint leaves and sugar in a small pot and crush the leaves with a wooden spoon. Pour in the boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cover and set aside to steep and cool for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a blender, purée the cucumber with 2 cups cold water. Strain the cucumber liquid and mint liquid through a fine strainer into a large bowl; discard the solids. Pour the liquid into a large pitcher. Add the lemon juice and 4 cups cold water; stir to combine. Serve over ice with lemon and cucumber slices and some sprigs of mint.

 


Cherry Tomato Basil Mozzarella Appetizers

Cherry tomato appetizers
 

This is a super fast appetizer inspired by the Italian classic Caprese Salad. They are perfect for summer parties when the tomato and basil flavors are at their peak. Be sure to use high quality olive oil and fresh mozzarella.

Download Cherry Tomato Basil Mozzarella Appetizers

32 cherry tomatoes

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces fresh mozzarella

1/4 cup basil leaves, cut in chiffonade (leaves rolled up and sliced in thin ribbons)

1. Slice a very thin piece off the bottom of each cherry tomato so the tomatoes will sit level on a platter. Make another slice on the other end of the tomato and scoop out the seeds inside using a small melon baller or small measuring spoon.

2. Sprinkle each cherry tomato with salt and pepper. Drizzle in a few drops of olive oil into each cherry tomato. Stuff each tomato with a cube of the mozzarella cheese. Garnish the tops with the sliced basil. Transfer the stuffed cherry tomatoes onto a serving platter and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cherry tomatoes cut
Cherry tomatoes basil


Best Homemade Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie slice1

This is one of those “crowd pleasing” pie recipes. Everyone loves the creamy banana filling and billowy whipped cream topping. 

Download Best Homemade Banana Cream Pie

Pie Crust

1 recipe Fool Proof Pie Dough (recipe below) or Pillsbury store bought crust, baked and cooled

Banana Cream Filling

½ cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons

¼ cup cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon table salt

5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

2 cups milk, whole or 2 percent

½ cup evaporated milk

½ vanilla bean, about 3-inches long, split lengthwise

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1-2 teaspoons brandy

2 medium bananas

2 tablespoons orange juice

 

Whipped Cream Topping

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

 

 For the Crust:

Follow instructions for Fool Proof Crust or bake store bought crust according to package directions and set baked crust aside to cool completely.

 

For the Filling:

1. Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium saucepan. Add yolks, then immediately but gradually whisk in milk and evaporated milk. Drop in vanilla bean. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently at first, then constantly as mixture starts to thicken and begins to simmer, 8 to 10 minutes. Once mixture simmers, continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute longer. Remove pan from heat; whisk in butter and brandy. Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds, and whisk them back into filling.

2. Pour filling into shallow pan (another pie pan works well). Put plastic wrap directly over filling surface to prevent skin from forming; cool until warm, about 30 minutes. Pour half the warm filling into pie shell.

3. Peel and slice the bananas into ¼” slices and toss with orange juice; drain off excess juice. Spread slices on top of half the filling and top with remaining filling. Once again, place sheet of plastic wrap directly over filling surface. Refrigerate pie until completely chilled, at least 3 hours.

4. Whip cream to soft peaks. Add confectioner's sugar and vanilla; continue to whip to barely stiff peaks. Spread over filling and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Cook’s Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough for Single-Crust Pie

Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor—do not substitute. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup).

 

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces), divided

½ teaspoon table salt

1 tablespoon sugar

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 1/4-inch slices

¼ cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces

2 tablespoons vodka, cold

2 tablespoons cold water

1. Process 3/4 cups flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

 

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

 

3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave overhanging dough in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

 

4. Trim overhang to ½ inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Flute dough or press the tines of a fork against dough to flatten it against rim of pie plate. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

 

5. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp.

Banana Cream Pie Shell
Banana Cream Pie sliced bananas
Banana Cream Pie whipped cream
Banana Cream Pie