Thursday, December 31, 2009

CEiMB - Half Baked Lemon Bars

I'll admit, I've been a baaad Ellie-ista. It's been weeks since I've participated in Craving Ellie in My Belly, and judging by how my jeans are fitting, that's not a good thing.

So when Amy of Playing House selected Ellie's No-Bake Lemon Bars for this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly post, I resolved to make the recipe. I even intended to make it as written. Then something went terribly wrong. Trader Joe's didn't have plain graham crackers. And I was determined not to go to Safeway. So I bought a container of TJ's low-fat Ginger Cat Cookies. They're like crunchy gingersnaps. I thought they'd go well with the lemon.

I had the other supplies: Cream cheese (not light), sweetened condensed milk (ditto), eggs (not Egg Beaters) and (Meyer) lemons were all ready for the recipe. I had recently made this cheesecake in the food processor, and I liked how easy it was, so I used the FP for this recipe. I just wiped it out after crushing the cookies for the crust. Speaking of the crust, I baked it for 8 minutes and let it cool before pouring the filling in. I just think a pre-baked crust is so much tastier than one that isn't.

The resulting bars were more of a dessert you eat with a spoon than pick up with your hand (unless if you froze it for, say, 20 minutes before serving). But it was tart and creamy, and the ginger crust  was perfect with the tangy lemon cream. My only problem was with the crust. Since Ellie's recipe called for 7 sheets of graham crackers, it was hard for me to figure out how many cookies to use. I used WAY too many cookies, had to add extra butter, and ended up with a bit too much crust, some of which was a little crumbly. Not to worry. Those lovely crumbs pair well with the creamy lemon to make an easy dessert. Thanks, Amy, for a fabulous find from the new cookbook!

Here's my take on the original recipe:

Half Baked Lemon Bars - adapted from So Easy by Ellie Krieger
1 cup cookie crumbs (gingersnaps, Lorna Doones, etc.)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8 pan with cooking spray. Combine the crust ingredients in a bowl and stir until well combined. Pat into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool on a rack while making the filling.

8 ounces of light cream cheese
14 ounce can fat free sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice (I used 2 Meyer lemons)
2 teaspoons gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water

Place gelatin and 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl; stir until combined and set aside.

Place cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor and process for two minutes. Scrape down bowl and add condensed milk and egg. Process for another minute, then add the lemon zest, juice and gelatin. Process for 30 seconds. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Chill for 8 hours (or overnight) before serving.

NOTE: Ellie's recipe calls for using hot water to bloom the gelatin, but hot water always gives me lumps.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TWD - Low and Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake

Margaret of Tea and Scones chose this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Low and Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake. I was excited about this one because a.) it's chocolate, and b.) it's cheesecake.

I didn't used to like cheesecake (the same could be said about burgers, and I now love them, too), but that was before Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake. It won me over (and most everyone at work--they love that cheesecake so much that when I ask what they'd like me to make, it's always the cheesecake).

This chocolate cheesecake is so easy to make, and so low maintenance it doesn't even require a water bath. I made it as written, and baking it was completely uneventful. Yay for the absence of trauma!

I discovered that although I love chocolate and I love cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake doesn't make my heart beat faster. I like my chocolate chocolatier and my cheesecake cheesecakier (is that even a word?) And though my coworkers liked it, and ate it, they much prefer the Tall and Creamy.

Can you believe that the photo at the top of the post is the only one I have of this cheesecake?? But I have dozens of pictures like this one...

Thanks for an easy, tasty pick, Margaret!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TWD - My Favorite Pecan Pie

There are pecan pies, and there are transcendent, life changing, mood lifting, swoon-worthy pecan pies.

This one is one of the latter. Universally LLLLOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVEEEEDDDD by the gang at Thanksgiving dinner. Not all of them are pecan pie lovers (or even likers), but virtually all 15 people present had some and proclaimed it the sleeper hit of Pie Day Thanksgiving 2009. And that's not surprising as this one, with its notes of cinnamon, coffee and secret sweet pockets of chocolate, is sublime on a plate.

Me? I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I've been making the same pecan pie for over 20 years (yes, I started making pies when I was 6...not). So my pecan pie is obviously the best.

Uh, no. Dorie's is. By miles. So much so that I can't bring myself to consider cheating on it by making another pecan pie.

This pie was SO popular that the only piece left was a crumpled up sliver that I couldn't bring myself to show at the top of this post. So I made it again for yesterday's potluck for our last day in the office until January 5th. Since I was also bringing Dorie's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, after much angst, I broke down and bought a pre-made pie crust from Trader Joe's. Butter was listed before palm oil, but it was just OK. Since I used a smallish pie plate, I had extra filling left over, which I poured in a buttered ramekin and baked along side the pie.

We have Beth at Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina to thank for picking this one. She went through Dorie Greenspan's book Baking from My Home to Yours and picked out this recipe for us to make this week.

The woman is brilliant. And Dorie? I already *heart* Dorie. Now only more so.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Bread Pudding

Eek! I'm late with this post! I bailed on the last Barefoot Bloggers pick (Company Pot Roast) since I can't stomach large cuts of meat and am not a big fan of beef in general. Or wine.

For this one, I couldn't picture myself buying croissants to make a bread pudding I wasn't going to eat. After all, aren't there enough cookies, pastries and other delicacies floating around? But after I made Portuguese sweet bread this weekend, I eyed the stale loaf and thought its sweet notes of orange and lemon would be perfect for this recipe.

It was very fast to assemble (not counting the time I spent picking shards of egg shell out of the bowl) and baked in much less time than specified since I made a quarter of the recipe. I didn't have half and half, so I mixed whipping cream with 1% milk, but that made it a trifle oily. I also substituted dried cranberries for the raisins as I felt they would be nice with the citrus flavors of the bread.

I'm so glad I made this one with the Portuguese sweet bread. It added so much flavor to a dish I think would have been overly rich and bland. While it was still overly rich, the warmth of the citrus flavors was a nice touch.

Many thanks to Peggy of Pantry Revisited, who hosted this week. I love Peggy's blog and her sense of humor. Be sure you visit her...her bread pudding looks amazing! Peggy has the recipe, or you can find it here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD - Cafe Volcano Cookies

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was chosen by one of my favorite bloggers, MacDuff of Lonely Sidecar. I have to be honest with you. When I saw the name of this recipe I said "what?!?"

Cafe. Volcano. Cookies. All interesting in their own ways, but together? How does that work?

It works pretty well. This is flat out the easiest cookie you'll ever make...even easier than a no-bake cookie. The hardest part is separating the eggs, but that's not a big deal. You use one pan. A bowl for the egg whites. And something to stir the mixture in the pan. The P&Q proved that this one is a blank canvas, with Nancy suggesting maple sugar, and Caitlin swapping cocoa for the espresso powder. After toasting the nuts (I used the suggested almonds and walnuts), you combine all of the ingredients in a pan (I used espresso powder and cinnamon for flavoring) and heat until it's warm. Then scoop out to a prepared cookie sheet. After baking, I could hear the cookies crackling as they cooled. Their texture was crisp and the flavor deliciously nutty due to the concentration of the browned nuts.

This may have been the most fun I had making a Dorie recipe. Stop by MacDuff's if you'd like the recipe, or, even better, buy the book, Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. You'll discover more improbable hits like this one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

BBA - Italian Bread

I am officially a bread snob. Even though I felt like making a sandwich the other day, I couldn't do it. See, we didn't have any bread in the house. I don't buy bread anymore. It just doesn't measure up, even to my pathetic loaves, and certainly not to the loaves that fill me with pride and disbelief.

So I jumped ahead of our Bread Bakers' Apprentice posting schedule and made this several weeks ago. We needed bread. The preparation was similar to the French bread we recently made. I had heard rumblings that this bread wasn't as good as the French, but I thought it was pretty great, especially in a sandwich. Even though this was a hearth bread (like the dismal ciabatta fail a while back), I didn't freak out.

I used my Italian olive oil and let it rest in the fridge for a couple of days to build flavor. Right after I made this one, I bought a lame (for slashing the loaves) and a peel (for transferring the loaves to the oven). I still naively believe that the right tools will solve all my baking problems.

This bread comes from the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. Next up: Kaiser rolls!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD - Sables, and what's REALLY been keeping me busy

Do you have any idea how hard it is to do anything, like bake cookies, when you have two uber adorable kittens in the house? I want to cuddle them part of the time and make sure they aren't killing each other the rest of the time.

Say hello to Pearl (top) and Joy (bottom). Joy is 5 1/2 months old and Pearl is 3 1/2 months old. I adopted them both from the Humane Society within a week of losing Allie. It was the first time in over 20 years that I didn't have a cat, and I couldn't take it. M. travels a lot and I get lonely.

Oh, did you come here looking for sables? Sables from Baking From My Home to Yours? For Tuesdays with Dorie? Of course you did. And I did make them, but how cute is this...

Moving on to the sables...

It was Bungalow Barbara's turn to pick. These sables were easy to make, though hard to roll into round logs and mine ended up looking more like flat tires than perfect circles. I opted to make mine cinnamon, and with almost 2 teaspoons of my favorite Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon, they were redolent with bold, spicy cinnamon flavor. They had a lovely, sandy texture and delicate crumb which was highlighted by the crunchy Turbinado sugar along the edge. They are perfect with a steaming cup of chai on a cold day.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I hear a commotion in the bedroom...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ad Hoc Book Signing

Yesterday, my friend Susan and I waited in line in 41 degree weather for almost two hours (OK, we were indoors half of the time) to buy Ad Hoc At Home and have it autographed by Thomas Keller. Even though we were told he wouldn't do personal photos, yadda yadda, he was delightful in person and insisted on personal photos. If you bought Ad Hoc at Williams-Sonoma, he would sign it and any of his other cookbooks, regardless of where they were purchased. As you can see above, his signature is a beautiful addition to a fantastic cookbook. He was gracious and kind, and as down to earth as his food is ethereal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

CEiMB - Confetti Chili

I'm enjoying yet another bowl of this wonderful chili as I write this post. This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly was chosen by Lauren of I'll Eat You. Lauren also selected this week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick. What are the odds of that happening?

I love a good chili when the weather turns chilly. I live in California, so my idea of cold is much different than others who live in truly cold climates, but I was happy to see that Lauren had picked a chili. I'm not a fan of beef, unless we're talking burgers, so I used lean ground turkey. The recipe in the book is slightly different from the one on the Food Network website, calling for corn and only two kinds of beans. I didn't have frozen corn, so I used three beans (pinto, kidney and garbanzo). I added some chipotle chili powder for extra kick, and I used diced tomatoes instead of crushed. All of the above worked fine except the last one. I think using crushed tomatoes would give this a chili-er consistency.

We were very happy with this one and I'll definitely make it again. And again. And again. So thanks, Lauren!

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CEiMB Rewind - Pulled Barbecue Chicken

Last week, the Craving Ellie in My Belly cooks each did their own thing. Our fearless leader is Sara of imafoodblog. Sara suggested we each make our own Ellie recipe and preferably serve it on Thanksgiving. I opted to do a rewind of a recipe I missed while on vacation earlier this year. Pamela of Cookies With Boys chose Ellie's pulled barbecue chicken. I made this the week of Thanksgiving, but served it in the busy days leading up to the holiday.

The barbecue sauce is what makes this dish. It was sooo good, and it gave us many healthy and delicious meals when things were pretty hairy around here. Thanks, Pamela, and I'm sorry it took me so long to make your pick!