Lemon Bars

Me and all the moms in Minnesota love to make lemon bars. I don’t know what it is that draws me to this dessert. I certainly have my affinity for all things chocolate, but the tart lemon custard and shortbread crust is irresistible. I traveled to Italy about five years ago and spent considerable time on the Amalfi Coast, known for its steep, terraced lemon groves. They had lemons the size of grapefruits! Not to mention the limoncello… and the lemon gelato… it haunts my dreams.

So, to mix it up from creamy and chocalatey, lemon bars are one of my favorites, especially for large crowds. This recipe yields an entire pan full, and they are quite tart so best in small doses. You’ll be slicing away at these for days! Trader Joe’s almost always has Meyer Lemons, which are my favorite to use. But beware – the skin is usually quite thin so they don’t yield much zest at all, a key ingredient in this recipe. Instead, either buy lots of extras or go half-half on Meyer lemons and commercial ones.

This recipe is an amalgam of Mark Bittman’s, Smitten Kitchen’s (too much flour!), Ina Garten’s, and from a lady named Lee Bailey. Yeah, I like lemon bars.

I recently perfected my lemon/lime bar recipe, so this is the same as the key lime bars with the addition and exemption of a few key ingredients in the curd portion. Enjoy!

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Cool Coconut Lime Bars with Shortbread Crust

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Because of how often I make bars — pecan bars, lemon bars, brownies — I have begun to realize that they are my favorite dessert. It’s like mini pie when you think about it. And when you can nail that crust-to-filling ratio just the way you like it, you know you’re on to something great.

This recipe is a riff on my lemon bars. Cool off this summer with these tart, crunchy yet gooey coconut lime bars. Go ahead and tuck this recipe away, too. It’s a keeper. You could half the crust recipe and make in a smaller pan, thus increasing the ratio of curd to crust, or you could double the curd recipe if you want super thick and creamy bars. It’s up to you!

UPDATE: I have improved upon this recipe for both tartness and smoothness in the curd. I think you’ll find that this recipe could win some sort of midwestern state fair. Yes, it is that good. And by good I mean tastes good, not good for you! Recipe tweaks included… more butter and eggs! I also nixed the flour and baking soda in the filling. Enjoy!

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Sour Cream Cheesecake

My husband’s birthday is the day before Christmas, which means that Christmastime is basically a celebration of him in our household as neither of us are religious. We put up a tree and give gifts and celebrate the season — that is, the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the solstice. My husband’s favorite dessert is cheesecake. He loves it so much that we almost had it at our wedding. He grew up eating Snicker’s pie on his birthday made lovingly by his mother, and while it’s delicious I find that I can’t stomach much more than about a half a slice simply because it’s so rich. I was also eager to start creating our own Christmas/birthday traditions. I had never made a cheesecake before, so I went to Alton Brown for his recipe as they are fool-proof although sometimes complicated.

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Snickerdoodles!

When my husband told me last-minute that he needed something to take to a holiday party at work it was a no-brainer for me. Obviously it would be snickerdoodles, their cinnamon-y goodness being perfect for the holidays, but their sweet, kind of cool tartness make them great for any time of year. (I am clearly just justifying my obsession with this cookie. Humor me.)

These call for cream of tartar. What? That’s not a part of your spice cabinet and you don’t want to run to your local supermarket for one, $7 ingredient? Totally fair. You can sub lemon juice at a 1:1 ratio and you’ll be just fine.

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The Simplest, Most Delicious Homemade Brownies. And All About Fats.

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy.

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is really no reason to make brownies from a box, full of ingredients that are not only hard to pronounce but also not really food, and cups of processed oils. Processed oils, while cheap, are often hydrogenated,  highly refined and full of trans fat. Let’s talk about fats and hydrogenated oils for a minute, because it can get confusing. (I’ll admit, this is as much of a refresher for me as it is for you.) Diets high in trans (and saturated – but this is controversial) fats are linked to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, and saturated fats usually contain lots of cholesterols and often contribute to raising the level of your bad cholesterol. Most saturated fats come from animal and plant sources. So, they’re naturally occurring. All of this is what the American Heart Association and the FDA guidelines will tell you. And it’s true, to an extent. “Everything in moderation, right?”

However, this is not to say that we should be replacing our butter with margarine and eliminate eggs and red meat from our diet. Fats from animal and plant sources provide lots of concentrated energy for our diet and are naturally occurring (as opposed to, say, highly refined vegetable shortening like Crisco). They also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and hormones. Eating rich foods high in fats slows down our nutrient absorption and keeps us feeling fuller, longer. Fats are essential for many bodily processes.  So, the theory that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease isn’t necessarily a myth, but it is flawed. Low-fat diets are effective in weight loss but are hard to stick to (causing low energy, difficulty in concentration, and even weight gain!) I’m going to get kind of political on you here (yes, this is supposed to be a post about brownies) so skip right along to the recipe if you like, or keep reading if I’ve piqued your interest…

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

pumpkin choc bread pudding

Are you a fan of bread pudding? It seems to be particularly relegated to the South and I’ll admit it took me until about two years ago to actually try it. There are so many variations on a theme that the possibilities for bread pudding are endless… Sweet? Savory? Fruity? Chocolatey? This particular recipe is from the “Well” column in The New York Times and was originally vegan. I threw in a couple eggs for good measure, but they are easily omitted if you’d like. I was excited to have a venue for it at one of our Cincinnati Family Dinners. (Yes, this is a proper title and deserves capitalization.) My husband is from the ‘Nati and we have an extended family of his friends that live here in the District as well. We get together every few weeks for a potluck and it is one of my favorite things about our new home in DC. This was not my favorite bread pudding I’ve ever made (perhaps I’ll post that one another time) but it got an A from one particularly picky member of our Cinci family, so I’ll take that as a sign that it’s post-worthy. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo post-baking as it was a party and I didn’t quite feel like tearing myself away for mobile phone photos of questionable quality. Mine dried out a bit, but I was using an oven that didn’t have a thermostat so I had no idea what the temperature was. 🙂

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