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.**
*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.

Brownies with a Kick

For some reason, I always associate brownies with Valentine’s day. I usually opt for Alice Medrich’s ethereal New Bittersweet Brownies from her most recent masterpiece, Pure Dessert.  However, seeing as the world has gone absolutely gaga over the Baked brownie, I figured I’d give that recipe a shot.  Given the nature of Valentine’s day, I also wanted to spice it up a bit with some cayenne pepper and cinnamon–just enough spice to make the back of your throat sing.

From the start, I could tell the Baked brownie recipe would be a cinch to put together.  Unlike Medrich’s recipe, the batter can be whipped up without a mixer.  Also, because the eggs aren’t beaten as much, the top crust of the Baked brownies is a lot thinner (the one downfall of Medrich’s brownies, in my opinion).

The result?  Well, these brownies sure are delicious–perfectly fudge-like, without a hint of gumminess.  The heat from the cayenne and the cinnamon is a wonderful addition, especially with a scoop of coffee ice cream right on top.  Although I’m still not convinced that the recipe tops Medrich’s brownie heaven, it places a close second, and earns a spot in my brownie recipe rotation.

Spicy Hot Brownies:
(adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)
These brownies are exceptionally tasty when topped with coffee ice cream.  I’m particularly fond of Haagen Dazs.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon high-quality cocoa powder (I use Callebaut)
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground espresso powder
5.5 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 8 x 8 inch pan. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and espresso.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the chocolate and butter.  Set over a pot of simmering water and stir until the chocolate and butter are completely melted.  Turn off the heat.  Add the sugars, and whisk to combine.  Remove the bowl from the pot.
Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time.  Do not overmix the batter, beat only until the eggs are combined.  Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture and fold until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few crumbs.  Try not to overbake, or the brownies will lose their fudge-like consistency.
Let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.  Cut into 9 squares for large servings, or 12 for smaller servings.
If you would like to try Alice Medrich’s New Bittersweet Brownie recipe, click on over to Slow Like Honey.

Brussels Sprouts with almonds and garlic

I couldn’t be happier about the popularity boost of the humble Brussels sprout.  After all, they are less bitter than regular cabbage, are packed with nutritional punch, and can be prepared in many different ways.  (One of my favorites is sauteing the sprouts with maple-glazed bacon and hazelnuts–quite delightful!)

However, today I wanted to try something different with the tiny cabbages.  I was looking for something similar to a slaw, yet with a more filling nature.  I think this dish hits the mark!  The nuttiness from the almonds and the cheese adds a richness to the dish, not to mention a bit of protein.  To boot, the dish only takes 20 minutes from cutting board to table.  I’m willing to bet that a few Brussels sprouts haters will reconsider their aversion after trying this dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Garlic
This salad is also good cold, although I would omit the cheese.  Serves 2.
1 lb Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup almonds, chopped
large pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
Romano or Parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)
Cut the bottom end off each Brussels sprout.  Slice thinly.  Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to brown it.  Add the chopped almonds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the sliced Brussels sprouts, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sprouts  become bright green and are slightly wilted.  Remove from heat and top with cheese, if desired.

Warm Red Cabbage Salad

The cold weather has officially hit, and I find myself craving more hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food; salads aren’t typically included in this category.  However, one of my coworkers brought this salad for lunch last week, and the scent wafting across the table motivated me to buy a 3-pound red cabbage at the farmer’s market this past weekend.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite sites, 101 Cookbooks.  I love Heidi’s food philosophy, her photography, and her delicious creations.  I have yet to be disappointed by one of her recipes, and this warm red cabbage salad was no exception.

The dish can be whipped up in a mere 30 minutes, making it perfect for a quick, light dinner.  However, if you’re anything like me, you may enjoy this salad so much that you find yourself eating it at all times of the day.  Believe me, it’s really that good.

Warm Red Cabbage Salad
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
If you go to Heidi’s site, you’ll notice that she coats the sunflower seeds with sugar.  However, as advised by my coworker, the salad is already quite sweet due to the raisins, so I chose to omit this step.  Also, although this salad is wonderful alone, it is very tasty if accompanied by wild rice.  Makes 4-6 servings.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 shallot, diced
1 pound red cabbage, thinly shredded
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
lemon juice (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and sauté the onion, garlic, and shallot until soft.  Stir in the cabbage, and add a few pinches of salt.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the rosemary, sunflower seeds, raisins, and vinegar.  Stir and cook until the cabbage softens a bit, but still has crunch.  Fold in the feta cheese and lemon juice (if desired).  Season with more salt if needed.