Homemade Flour Tortillas

As I basked in the sun on my front porch last week I suddenly realized that it had been a while, a LONG while, since I had spent time in the kitchen.  I had put granola and yogurt in a bowl, brown rice in a pot of boiling water, and fried a few eggs here and there, but I hadn’t spent more than 30 minutes making anything.  And so, I vowed to make dinner…a big, elaborate dinner.

I went to the “to make” folder on my computer and came across Alexandra’s recipe for homemade tortillas.  Yes, the recipe is a little bit tedious, but I was sure it would be worth the effort.  Oh boy, was I right!

Homemade tortillas are fantastic: soft, yet chewy, with far more flavor than their store-bought cousins.  I topped the misshapen beauties with spiced, shredded chicken thighs, citrus-jicama slaw, corn salsa, and queso fresco.  Served with spicy black beans, and chips and salsa, the meal was a hit.

Homemade Flour Tortillas
(recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen)
Makes about 10 small tortillas or 6 large (burrito size) tortillas.
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt (not kosher) I used sea salt, fine
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter
2/3 cup warm water
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in warm water with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 minutes until smooth, soft, and not sticky, adding more flour if necessary.
Cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces for taco-sized tortillas or 3-oz pieces for burrito-sized tortillas.  Shape pieces into a ball.  Cover with a very light kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Be careful that your room isn’t too hot. Let the dough rest 30 minutes and up to two hours.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball to about 9 to 10 inches (taco) or 11 to 12 inches (burrito) in diameter, or until you can see the counter start to come through.
Heat a 12 inch non-stick or cast-iron pan (do not add any oil) on medium-high. Lay the tortilla in the pan and cook until it puffs and little brown spots on the underside appear. Turn with tongs and cook. Each tortilla takes about 45 seconds.
Enjoy.
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The Best Lemon Bars

When signs of spring begin to pop up around town, I always make lemon bars.  Lemon has the power to wake you up from the cloudy fog of winter with one, slightly tart bite.  Quite the powerful fruit!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that these lemon bars will be the best you’ll find.  I’ve adapted the recipe from the creator of my favorite brownies, Alice Medrich.  The bars are slightly more tart than a traditional lemon bar, but I think that’s the key to their success.

I always add a dash of ginger to any lemon sweet that I am making, convinced that the spice lets the lemon sing.  One day, I’ll experiment with earl gray or jasmine tea in the crust as well. For now though, get yourself ready for spring by whipping up a batch of these easy, and utterly delicious lemon bars.  Let me know what you think!

 
The Best (or at least my favorite) Lemon Bars
(adapted from Alice Medrich’s Very Tangy Lemon Bar recipe)
Makes 16 large or 24 small lemon bars.  The recipe can easily be doubled and prepared in a 9 x 13 inch pan.
For the crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil. Set aside.
To make the crust: in a medium-sized bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and ground ginger and mix until combined.*  Press the dough over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is completely baked and golden brown.
To make the filling: While the crust is baking, stir together the sugar and flour in a large mixing bowl until well combined.  Whisk in the eggs. Add the lemon zest and juice and stir.
When the crust is fully baked, turn down the oven to 300 degrees. Pour the filling onto the hot crust and slide back into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the topping doesn’t jiggle when the pan is moved. Cool completely before cutting.**
Enjoy.
*Note: the crust will seem too greasy, but it will come together in the oven. Don’t add more flour.
**Note 2: Store leftovers (if there are any) in the refrigerator.
 
 

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok folks, get your self-restraint ready.

Got it?

No?

It may be hidden in the fridge behind the carrots, or perhaps under the whole grain bread.

Alright, ready? Excellent, because you’re definitely going to need it when these treats are in the cookie jar.

I’ve always been a huge fan of peanut butter and chocolate’s relationship.  It’s a perfect marriage between salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy.  I could never choose one over the other.

It’s no surprise then, that one of my favorite cookies is the famous peanut butter- chocolate chip.  I found a recipe for peanut butter cookies a few years ago that quickly found its spot in my baking rotation.  Over the years I’ve adapted the recipe to be my own.  With a swirl of grade B maple syrup, a dash of cayenne pepper, and a crunchy coating of turbinado sugar, they are dangerously addictive.  Seriously, I dare you to try stopping after just one…

Dangerously Addictive Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies:
These cookies are a definite crowd-pleaser; I have had several requests to make them.  I recommend using the best chocolate chips you can get your hands on (I use Callebaut), or perhaps you can chop up a fancy chocolate bar.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup high-quality chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1/2 cup turbinado sugar, for coating (optional, but adds a really nice crunch)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper, if using.  Mix well. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, peanut butter, sugars, and maple syrup together until fluffy and lighter in color, about 4 minutes. Add the egg, mix well.  Mix in the vanilla.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until combine.  Stir in the chocolate chips.
Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and coat with turbinado sugar, if using. Place on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.  Smash the dough balls down with a fork to flatten a bit (the cookies shouldn’t spread too much during baking).  Bake 10-12 minutes.
Enjoy.

Apple-Cranberry Pie

There are cake people and there are pie people.  Although I treat myself to a cupcake now and then, I am, when forced to choose, a pie person.  After all, how can you deny a plateful of just-from-the-oven apple pie topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream?

A good friend came over to bake yesterday, and I was thrilled when he revealed his intentions to make an apple-cranberry pie.  There’s something about the way those bouncy and bright little cranberries make the filling pop.  And the crust, OH THE CRUST, it’s perfectly buttery, with a hint of lemon and a little crunch.  Serve up a slice warm from the oven with a big scoop of ice cream, and you’ll never find it difficult to choose between pie and cake again.

 

Apple-Cranberry Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie
Pie Crust:
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, diced
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup ice water
Pie Filling:
3 pink lady apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3/4 cup cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water (optional)
turbinado sugar (optional)
For the pie crust:  Put the butter on a small plate and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in the semi-frozen butter until the butter chunks are about the size of peas (I flatten any big chunks of butter with my fingers).  Pour 1/4 cup of ice water over the mixture and mix, adding additional water if necessary.*  Form the dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
For the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle flour on the countertop and the rolling pin.  Roll dough into an 11 inch circle, picking the dough up and rotating it 45 degrees after each stroke to prevent sticking.  Place the circle of dough into a pie pan and trim the overhang within 1 inch of the pan.  Pile the filling into the lined pie pan.  Roll out the remaining disk of dough and place over filling.  Trim edges to match bottom layer of dough.  Fold the edges under and crimp.  If desired, brush the egg wash on the top crust and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut slits in the top of the pie and place in the oven.  Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until the filling is bubbling.
Enjoy.
*Hint: The pie dough has enough water when, after squeezing some dough in your hand, the ball of dough stays together.    If it does not, add more water by the tablespoon until it holds together.