Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lemon Bars

There’s a lot going on in the next couple of weeks.

Just about all of it has to do with a family wedding happening; dresses to be bought, hair to be touched up, nails to be done, family coming into town.  In my family, or at least for Samantha and I, an event of this magnitude means baking.  

Two kinds of brownies, chocolate drop cookies, blueberry-peach crisp, pumpkin cookies, two kinds of chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars.  

We have 3 teenage boys coming to stay, which, combined with my own brothers means that this amount of baking may be JUST enough to keep everyone in treats for four or five days.  Hopefully.

I’ve already told you about the brownies I made so today let’s discuss lemon bars.  I had my heart set on lemon bars, and spent a good day going through my recipe books and various food websites for a recipe that met my expectations; mostly, a thin shortbread crust with no almonds (we have nut allergies in the fam), a puckery lemon layer, with plenty of zest.  I chose the Barefoot Contessa’s lemon bars, via Deb at the Smitten Kitchen.  I like it for a couple reasons; it doesn’t include the almond extract a lot of recipes have (I know, I could just leave it out if it’s called for, but the stubborn part of me would rather just not have it there in the first place), it has a double-thick lemon layer, and everyone knows the lemon layer is one of the best parts of a lemon bar!  Lastly, since I’d found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, it meant a blogger I trust had tested it for me!  Deb upped the salt in the shortbread and reduced the sugar in the lemon layer.  Ina also doesn’t recommend you to grease your pan in the original recipe, but Deb suggests you do. 
I followed Deb’s version closely, but made some adaptations of my own; first, I used 7 large eggs instead of the 6 extra-large eggs that are always called for in Barefoot Contessa recipes.  I love Ina Garten, I really do, but who buys extra-large eggs?  NO ONE else calls for them!  It’s one of those things that’s kept me from really trying out some of her recipes.

In order to figure out how to substitute large for extra-large eggs, I did some fooling around with Google, I found a chart that sort of answered my question (sort of).  In the end, I just added an extra egg, and that seemed to work out just fine.  Another change is that I split the recipe between two 8x8” pans, instead of using one 9x13” one.  I also did what I always do when baking, and that’s line my pans with aluminum foil, since it’s just easier than messing around trying to get the grease into the corners, and wrestling with the bars getting them out of the pan once they were done.

Oh, you want to know if they were good?  Oh my Christ, yes.  I’m trying out a batch using key limes next.  I’ll let you know how it goes.


Lemon Bars

A few last words about this recipe; first, don’t you DARE make them with bottled lemon juice.  Lemons are dirt cheap, buy a few and squeeze them yourself.  I bought a bag of ridiculously huge (and delicious!) lemons from Superstore; two of them gave me more than enough zest, and four of them gave me a whole cup of juice.  I have a cute little hand-juicer from Ikea that does the job great.

For the shortbread: 

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 cups flour

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the lemon layer: 

6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup flour
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 9x13” baking pan (or two 8x8” pans) with aluminum foil.
For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Chill. Press the crust into the prepared pan, and bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (less if you are using the thinner topping), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
Cut into 2”-squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Extra-dark Brownies

I think that it could be safely said that I’m something of a fussy eater.  I know what I like, and if I do, I can’t get enough of it.  If I don’t like something, or I’m not in the mood for it, I just won’t do it.  Many people (Momma Bear and the sisters included) would go much further, and describe me as being downright picky.  I think that might be overstating it somewhat, and I like the sound of fussy better.

What does any of that have to do with brownies?  A lot of things!  I am very particular about my brownies.  They can’t be too sweet, and I don’t want a shit-ton of icing on there.  Sugar rushes have their place, but not in my brownie, thank you very much.  Also, no brownie of mine should ever be in any way, shape or form, cakey and dry.  I mean, if I wanted something cakey, I’d eat a piece of cake.  And who in their right mind wants a dry baked good?  Not anyone I want to be friends with.  So about a month ago, when I found this recipe at The Kitchn, for dark, not-too-sweet brownies, I had to give them a shot.  Since then, I’ve made them about seven or eight times.  That’s a lot of brownies!  But they’re soooooo good!

The original recipe at The Kitchn is actually for sea salt and lime extra-dark brownies.  For me, the combination of lime and chocolate isn’t an especially pleasing-sounding one (that’s my fussy side coming out).  So, I’ve never actually made these as the original recipe suggests.  I have however made two batches with a tablespoon or so of instant espresso powder dissolved in just-boiled water, and that was lovely.  The batch best so far, which is the one I’m sharing with you, includes cinnamon and a touch of cayenne, my rift on Mexican hot chocolate.  This was one of the (evil) sister’s suggestions, and I’m eternally grateful for the idea. 

Another difference between my version and the original; I don’t chop the last two ounces of chocolate to stir into the batter.  I just melt all 6 ounces of chocolate together with the butter, and it makes for wickedly rich, fudgey brownies.  Just like I like them.  I use 70-85% cocoa chocolate here; Lindt or the President’s Choice 85% chocolate are both great, but I’m sure any bittersweet chocolate will be good.
One last note; DON’T OVER-BAKE THEM!!  There is absolutely nothing worse than a dried-out brownie.  Ok, there are much worse things, but you want these a little gooey still when they come out of the oven.  And while you may be tempted to sneak a bite when they’re cooling on the counter; don’t.  Let them cool completely, and you’ll get the full, mind-blowing effect of these.

Super-extra-sexy, extra-dark chocolate brownies
adapted from The Kitchn

Makes 16 2-inch square brownies
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarsely
1 cup sugar

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Rounded 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Skant 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp coarse, flakey sea salt

Preheat oven to 325°F and line an 8x8-inch baking pan with tin foil, leaving the paper extra-long and hanging over two sides.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and bittersweet chocolate over medium-low heat. Stir until smooth.
Remove pan from the heat and add the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, spices, eggs, vanilla and kosher salt.  Mix until combined.  Add the boiling water.  Stir to combine and pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the sea salt on the top.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a tester comes out moist. It will not be perfectly clean, but it shouldn't be sticky either. Allow pan to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing brownies from pan.  To remove the brownies, just lift out the foil. Place the brownies in the foil on the wire rack. Cool completely and cut into 2-inch squares.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

La Poutine

Anyone reading this who knows me IRL, should know that I like cheese. And when I say "like," I really mean that if I were to suddenly become lactose intolerant, I would be the saddest person on earth. Needless to say, cheese+fries+gravy is my friend, and so when I saw that an all-poutine restaurant was opening on 109 street, I knew I needed to go at some point.

Since it opened a few weeks ago, other (more legit) bloggers, like Chris from Eating is the Hard Part, and Sharon at Only Here for the Food, had written positive reviews of La Poutine. My friend Rae and I made standing plans to go, and this past Monday, we made it there with our friends Shannon and Amanda along for the ride.

Others had mentioned that there was no real seating options inside, so Amanda grabbed us one of the two outside tables, while Shannon and I found our respective parking spots (a process that involved Shannon sending me colourfully-worded texts bemoaning the state of parking in the area).

Once we were all there, we took turns ordering. Rae got an Original, saying she was chickening out in the face of all the topping options, but also wanted to see how their poutine stood up by itself. Shannon and I both chose Canadians; Original poutines topped with bacon, while Amanda got a Quebecois, topped with Montreal smoked meat.

I ordered first, and honestly wasn't paying that much attention, which is how I ended up with a Large. Oh dear lord, the photo doesn't do it justice, but let me assure you that that is a bucket of poutine. A large is easily enough for two people.

We all really enjoyed our orders, the bacon on Shannon and mine was real, although larger bits may worked better, and the bacon was definitely really greasy. The curds were nice and sueaky, and held their shape quite well.

Rae really liked her Original, and said she will further expand her poutine horizons on her next visit. She's recently back from a holiday that included a stop in Montreal, and said that La Poutine holds up pretty well compared to the poutine she ate in La Belle Province. Amanda said the smoked meat on her's was good too. We all ordered our poutines with the default "Quebec gravy," but La Poutine also offers beef or vegan gravies, as well as vegan cheese.

As you can see from the photo, I didn't make it all the way through my bucket of poutine; I left behind about a third, and squeezed in a coconut-mango cupcake from Whimsical Cupcakes next door. ;D

La Poutine
8720-109 Street
(780) 757-7222

Whimsical Cake Studio Inc.
8716 109 Street
(780) 988-2253

Thursday, June 9, 2011


More often than not, I'm more impressed by simplicity done well than by precious, over-complication of things. Case in point; sourdough bread, with homemade salted butter. My heart sang with every bite.

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Super-awesome fun-times

Guess who scored free tickets to U2? This girl! That's who!

Hi, Bono!

As a side-note, over-priced Stadium beer is especially crappy. 7.50$ for a half-pint.