Saturday, March 30, 2013

Coconut Lemon Bars

These lemon bars are for Genevieve… mostly so she'll stop harassing me about making lemon bars. 

Genevieve was on my team at my last company, and regularly dropped hints for me to bring in treats. A month or so ago, she pinged me and said "so, have you ever made lemon bars?" Then a few weeks later "you should make lemon bars…for your blog, I mean." Then, shortly after, she abandoned all subtly, and got straight to the point "seriously, when are you making me lemon bars?"

I've never really cared about lemon bars. I mean, not that I disliked them, but they were never something I really wanted or craved. So after Genevieve's insistence, I put a poll up on Facebook, to gauge interest and see if others also wanted lemon bars. Turns out, you do. Lemon bars won. So here Genevieve, here are your damn lemon bars already!  

Truth be told, I'm glad she suggested (er, demanded?) lemon bars, because I actually hadn't ever made them, and I loved it! They were super fun to make, filled my apartment with the best lemony, buttery scent ever, and, lo and behold, they're so, so addictingly good. However, I must warn you: don't be fooled by the citrusy freshness—lemon bars are not, I repeat NOT, good for you. They're super buttery and have tons of sugar. I used almost half the amount of sugar that one popular recipe called for. That's crazy. I also added coconut to the shortbread crust…because I love coconut, and also because coconut and lemon are so springy and perfect for Easter weekend. The sweet richness of the crust cuts through the lemony tang, so that the bars are not too sweet or too sour, but just the right mix of the two. 

Coconut Lemon Bars
Adapted from this recipe

Coconut shortbread crust
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup confectioner's/powdered sugar
3/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt

Lemon filling
4 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh lemon juice (I used 4 medium-large lemons, but I would recommend juicing straight into a liquid measuring cup)

Toasted coconut and powdered sugar, for serving

Preheat to 350, with rack in center. Grease a 9x13 inch pan (or, I used two 8x8 pans) and line with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Grease the foil. 

Start with the crust. Pulse the butter, flour, brown sugar, powdered sugar, and salt in a food processor until the dough comes together, about 1 minute*. Then mix in the coconut. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan or pans, making sure there are no cracks. Bake until the crust is golden, about 20-25 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Whisk the eggs and extra yolks, sugar, and flour in a bowl until smooth. Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the temperature to 300. Add lemon zest and juice to egg mixture, and whisk until combined (you want to wait until you're ready to pour the filling to add the lemon, as the acid could begin to cook the eggs). Pour the filling over the warm crust and, and bake until the filling is set, 30 to 35 minutes.

Let the bars cool in the pan on a rack, then refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. Lift out of the pan using the foil and slice. Dust with powdered sugar and toasted coconut before serving. PS. they taste great straight out of the fridge! 

*If you have a food processor that fits more than a cup and doesn't make the most horrible screeching sound in the world that makes your cat run and hide every time you use it, then use that. If not, you can use your hands, just be patient, and work the dough until you have pea-sized dough pebbles, and it can come together in a ball. I actually enjoy the hands-on mixing of the dough…but I also have the worst food processor ever. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Anatomy of a Salad

I'm not a salad pro by any means, but I think I'm on to something with this one. Arugula, chicken, roasted tomatoes, homemade croutons, hardboiled eggs, and creamy tangy goat cheese...I want it all the time. 

This entree salad just has all the right components. The right mix of textures, flavors, and temperatures…so much goodness! I don't usually post salad recipes, because, well… I generally don't think salads need a recipe, but more like… simple instructions or guidance. The anatomy of a salad, if you will. 

The Greens
Lettuce, spinach, kale, spring greens, arugula. Your salad should start off with a big pile of greens. In this salad, I used arugula, because I love the way dressing clings to the sturdy leaves and I can't get enough of the peppery bite. 

The Protein 
Grilled chicken is obviously a salad go-to. For this particular salad, I've used both grilled chicken, and shredded roasted chicken. I also like to add hardboiled egg slices—the egg adds just the right creamy richness to balance out the acid in the dressing.

The Bread
In my opinion, all good entree salads need bread, but I'm a carbaholic. Go the sliced, grilled bread route, or make homemade croutons. To make the croutons, toss chunks of bread in olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs (like thyme or herbs de provence), and bake in a 400 degree oven golden and crispy. I used a hearty walnut bread in this one. 

The Veg
Ok, so tomatoes aren't a vegetable. But in this salad, they're the veg. Just work with me. I love roasted cherry tomatoes in this, I love the way they smash against the croutons, and they're amazing still slightly warm. Similar to the croutons, I toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, and roast at 400 until just starting to split and shrivel. 

The Cheese
Two words. Humboldt. Fog. This tangy, creamy, rich goat cheese is to. die. for. But a crumbly bleu, or even big shards of nutty parmesan work. 

The Dressing
Shutterbean's fig balsamic is just the right amount of sweet and tangy. I like to toss the arugula and croutons in the dressing, then pile the rest of the ingredients on top.

The Nut
I like the crunch of a good toasted nut in my salads. I used hazelnuts in this one, since they were so good with Shutterbean's dressing in her original recipe.

Toss it all together, and you're good to go. So, so good to go.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ham Fried Rice

Fried rice is my go-to for quick weeknight dinners. It's super duper easy, I always have the ingredients on hand, and it's pretty tasty. My fried rice is totally not the greasy Chinese take-out version, but I love it so much. I crave it. 

For the rice, you can either used leftover rice, you can throw some rice on to boil when you get home from work, or you can even pop into the takeout place on the way home and grab a little carton of cooked rice. Don't judge, but I have a secret. I'm in love with Trader Joe's microwavable frozen individual brown rice packets. It seems more like real food than some of those other pre-cooked rice packets. And I love the nutty flavor and toothsome chew of brown rice. I try to keep peas in the freezer at all times too. Not only are they perfect for tossing into rice, but also pasta! And I mean, got a black eye or sore muscle? Instant ice pack! Can I tell you another secret? I also keep un-cooked bacon in the freezer, and then when I make fried rice, I just cut off a few chunks from the frozen slab o' bacon and throw it in. Add an onion, garlic, egg, some soy sauce, and lots of black pepper… and that, my friends, is dinner.

With Easter just around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about fried rice, since you can totally throw some of that leftover Easter ham in there. Yep, Easter-ham fried rice. It's a thing. At my house anyway. And if you bake your ham with brown sugar, oh man. That sticky sweet sugary ham is puh-erfect in fried rice. I would even go as far as to recommend stashing a hunk or two of ham from your guests just for this purpose. You'll thank me later. 

Ham Fried Rice
Serves 2-4

Unlike some fried rice recipes, I like to mix the raw egg in with the rice, so that it almost coats it and cooks all around it, versus having chunks of scrambled egg. Check out my 'technique' in the instructions. 

2 large eggs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup cooked, diced ham
3 cups cooked rice
Fresh ground black pepper

In a small bowl, add eggs and soy sauce, and beat until combined. Set aside.

Heat a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high, and add coconut oil. Once the oil is shimmery, add the onion. Cook onion until just starting to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another couple of minutes minutes (don't let garlic burn). Add peas and ham, and cook for a minute or so, until warm. Add rice and stir so everything is combined and rice is warm. 

Push rice mixture to outer edges of the wok and pour the egg in the middle. Let it sit for a minute or so, so that it's starting to cook on the bottom but is mostly still liquid, then start stirring, mixing the cooked egg into the raw egg. Slowly start stirring the edges of the rice into the egg mixture, until eventually there's no longer a well in the middle of the wok. Stir until everything is combined. Then sort of flatten the rice out, let cook for a few minutes, and flip it (with a spatula). Flatten once more and cook for another minute or so. This ensures that the egg is cooked, and it makes a nice crispy crust. 

Season to taste with black pepper and sriracha. I love lots of black pepper in mine! 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

St. Paddy's Cheese Plate

When Amanda and I were little kids we always tried to find the end of the rainbow. We seriously hunted for it every time. I think we were actually more excited at the prospect of finding a leprechaun than we were about finding the pot of gold. There was one place on our property where we found some treasures once, goldish buttons or something. We always thought the rainbow would end there, it just seemed like a leprechaun habitat, and those treasures were definitely left behind by those tricky little green-clad men. Those guys were good though, sneaky little buggers. 

Do you need a last minute dish to take to a St. Paddy's dinner? Well, I'm here to help you class it up a bit this St. Patrick's day. No green beer for you, my friends! You'll be the one showing up to the party with a fancy schmancy salmon and cheese plate, even if you are just looking for something to nosh on before hitting up the pub crawl and downing pints of Guinness. 

Apparently the Irish are known for their smoked salmon. That's what Gourmet tells me. And I listen to pretty much everything Gourmet tells me. Except for the part about using cold-smoked salmon, like lox. Because I much prefer the hot-smoked variety. Especially with some creamy Irish cheese, rye bread toasts, peppery arugula (because it's green!), and sweet-tangy malt vinegar syrup. 


Irish Cheese Plate

What you'll need:
Irish cheese: Dubliner and an Irish Cheddar (mine had swirls of stout beer!)
Smoked salmon
Rye bread, thinly sliced and toasted
Malt vinegar syrup (recipe from Gourmet)

What you'll do: 
Either arrange on a cheese place and let people build their own snacks, or pre-make little salmon crostinis. Pair with Guinness or some sort of Irish Whiskey drink. Follow with stout floats.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dinner & Movie: Tex Mex Taco Stack

Guys, I’m hardcore daydreaming about Texas right now. I’ve never been (except for some airport layovers, and some Friday Night Lights fantasies), and Austin is for sure on my bucket list. SXSW is just starting, and the press for it makes me crave sunshine, margaritas, and tacos. Seriously, how can you look at this and not be tempted to jump on a plane right this minute!? If you decide to stay put, you can satisfy your cravings with a grindhouse flick and a big plateful of Tex Mex food. (If you’re squeamish, you may want to fill up just before the movie starts).

It's dinner & a movie: Tex Mex Style!

The Movie: Death Proof
My name is Amber and I’m addicted… to Quentin Tarantino films. I love his movies, and Death Proof has to be one of my favorites. If you’re not a Tarantino fan, I still encourage you to watch this movie. I LOVE the way it’s shot, all grainy and gritty, and the soundtrack—out of this world. And the way he builds the characters and focuses on random insignificant details, I’m obsessed. It starts out in Austin, with a group of 20-something gals out for a night on the town, then some crazy stuff happens, and it ends in Tennessee. The scenery—from Texas to Tennessee—makes me long for nothing more than a sunny day and a pair of cowboy boots. Also, did I mention Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson? Oh yeah, there’s also some bloody violence, I mean, it IS Tarantino, after all. Sometimes though, I forget about the gory parts because I’m so caught up in how awesome everything else in this movie is (but um, I like the gory parts… so, yeah, there’s that).

Photo Credit: This is actually a pic I took of my movie cover

The Dinner: Tex Mex Taco Stack
In the movie, the girls go out in Austin for margs and tacos at Gueros. Ps. they actually filmed at a place in Austin called Gueros Taco Bar, and it looks amazing. Every time I watch this movie (which, um, is often) I get a super craving for Tex Mex. This Tex Mex Taco Stack has layers of chicken, corn, beans, and corn tortillas, drenched in a spicy chipotle chile sauce and melty cheddar and jack cheese. Do I really need to say more? Stir up a batch of these super fresh blood orange margaritas, put out a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa, and turn off the lights: it’s time for dinner & a movie!

Tex Mex Taco Stack
Olive oil
3 chicken breasts, cubed (or thighs, your preference)
1/2 onion, diced
Juice of 1 lime
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn
1 cup black olives, sliced
Chipotle chili sauce (see recipe below, or use about 2 cups canned enchilada sauce)
Corn tortillas (about 12)
1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese
1.5 cups grated jack cheese
Sour cream, green onions, and tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat oven to 350. In a large casserole dish, add a spoonful of sauce to coat bottom.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, add a swirl of olive oil. Add chicken and onion, and cook until lightly browned and cooked through. Add lime juice, and cook another couple of minutes, until lime juice is evaporated/soaked up. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Combine beans, corn, olives, and sauce in a large bowl. On top of sauce layer in casserole dish, layer: tortillas (you may have to cut them or overlap them, that's fine), bean/sauce mixture, chicken/onion mixture, cheese. Repeat until ingredients are gone, ending with tortilla covered with cheese as the top layer. Depending on the size of your dish, you may need to make 2 dishes. 

Lightly cover foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, and cook another 10 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving, so it can set up. 

Top with sour cream and sliced green onion, and serve alongside tortilla chips. 

Chipotle Chili Sauce
This seems like a lot of ingredients, but it comes together so quickly, it's totally worth making it! 

1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Chipotle peppers in adobo 
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 tablespoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, diced

Start with one chipotle pepper plus a spoonful of the adobo sauce, and then blend all ingredients together until smooth. I prefer to do it in a large bowl with my immersion blender, but a regular blender will work too. Add more peppers and blend to get to your preferred spice level. Use in taco stack. 

If you're using canned tomato sauce and chicken stock, you'll have a cup left of each. If you want to use these up, feel free to double the recipe and freeze half for later. Here's a good way to use up extra chipotle peppers. 


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ham & Cheese Waffles

It's March! And it looks like spring out there! I've learned not to pack up my sweaters too soon, though. We've had snow in May. But, I'm definitely excited for spring to hurry up and get here, I'm ready for asparagus! In other news, here are some things I've been digging lately. 
  • La Roux! I may be late to this discovery, but I've become completely obsessed with La Roux and lead singer Elly Jackson! Their music is really far from my typical taste, but I'm loving it so much right now. I pretty much watched every video on You Tube. Watch this one. And this one.   
  • Speaking of music, on a totally other different end of the spectrum, I saw my friend Kimber's band Della Mae perform at Wintergrass bluegrass festival last night. Those ladies are incredible! 
  • My grocery store started carrying Midnight Moon moonshine! I bought the apple pie flavor and I loooove it! I really want the blackberry next!
  • Did you guys read this article about the guy who found a baby in a train station, adopted the baby, and now, 10 or so years later, got the judge who did the adoption to do the marriage of him and his partner? Gah, it's incredible. I cried a little bit.
  • Shutterbean's fig balsamic dressing. OMG. I've made it like three times in the last week. I also used it on a really tasty roasted chicken salad I'll share with you soon! 
  • Have you ever shopped at Zulily? I have a friend who works there, and the other day she posted that they were having a TOMS sale. I bought two pairs. Plus a laptop sleeve. Plus a hat. 
  • Along with everyone else on the internet, I'm in love with Jennifer Lawrence right now. But, I fell in a love a little bit before that, when I read this article.
  • Amanda brought me this can o' maple syrup from her recent trip to Montreal. It's so good (and how cute is that can!?). Perfect for ham and cheese waffles!

Ham and Cheese Waffles
This is the perfect breakfast for someone who can't choose between savory and sweet breakfast. The salty ham and cheese goes so well with the tangy waffles (from the sour cream!) and sweet maple syrup. 

Serves 2 (makes 4 thin waffles)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced ham

For serving:
Fried eggs
Warm or room temperature pure maple syrup

Combine flour through salt in a large bowl, and whisk together. In a glass measuring cup, combine the sour cream and water, and whisk until combine. Add to dry mixture, add egg, and stir until well blended. The batter will be a tad thicker than you may be used to for waffles. Gently fold in the cheese and ham. Preheat waffle maker, and add a fourth of the batter to the center, close, and cook until golden. Repeat until you have four crispy, cheesy waffles. Serve topped with syrup and fried egg. 

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