Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lemon Squares

If sunshine had a flavor, it would be lemony.

The weather this weekend was AMAZING.  Sunny, clear blue skies, warm.  The birds are chirping, the trees are budding, flowers are sprouting - it's DEFINITELY spring time in New England.

It's no secret that I'm a chocoholic, but as the weather gets nicer, I also want to bright, fresh flavors, in my regular food and in my baking.  I was desperate to bake over the weekend, but for the first time in a long time, found myself just short of a lot of ingredients and with no desire to go to the grocery store.  After going through the cabinets for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me that I could make lemon squares.

Actually, if I'm being accurate, these are really lemon lime squares. Yes, like Sprite.  See, I did have some lemon juice, but only had about a quarter of a cup.  I also had some unopened lime juice (confession: I have no idea why I originally bought it), so I used that to make up the difference.

I also had some King Arthur Lemon Bits in the cabinet, which are like these little lemon flavored pieces that melt in the oven and give you pockets of lemon flavor.  I originally tried to melt some in the microwave, but that didn't work.  I added about a cup of these to the lemon topping, which gives a really nice lemon flavor (you don't even notice the lime!) but also adds a little bit of unexpected crunch.

Topped with powdered sugar, these are a really light and flavorful treat.  For some reason, I always forget how delicious lemon squares are until I make them.  I've been tossing around the idea of making them in other citrusy flavors - something about orange squares makes my mouth water.

What are your favorite springtime recipes and flavors?

Lemon Squares
To print this recipe, click here

For the crust:
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 3/4 c. flour
2/3 c. confectioner's sugar

Grease a 9" x 13" pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour and confectioner's sugar.

With the back of a fork, cut in butter until you get a crumbly crust.

Press into the bottom of your prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

For the topping:
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 c. King Arthur lemon bits (optional)

Combine all topping ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Pour on top of warm baked crust.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until topping has set.

Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Slice into squares and dust with confectioner's sugar.  Store in the refrigerator.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Springtime Cookie Fun

No recipe for this one, but I wanted to share some cookies that I made (OK, Joe helped) to celebrate spring finally arriving.

He'll probably kill me for saying this, but Joe and I decorated these together... and it was actually really fun! I'm usually the person in the kitchen who's all "get out of my way!" but we cut out, baked and decorated the cookies without baring any teeth.

Check them out!

Wanna guess which ones I decorated?

Photobombing my own cookies

Just a small sampling - we made about 3 dozen cookies total

Little Bunny Foo Foo



And, of course, daisies

See that pink spot? That's a belly button.


Happy Go Ducky!

Group shot of some of my favorites

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gluten Free Espresso Hazelnut Toffee Brownies

Joe's mom and sister both have celiac disease, which means that their bodies can't process any gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, etc.).  Actually, there's much more that goes into it, but I'm not even going to pretend to be an expert.  Instead, here's the Wikipedia link: Celiac Disease

Joe's family's get togethers are always potluck style, with everyone bringing a different dish so that the host doesn't have to try and cook for 30+ people all alone.  This is awesome, except that his mom and sister's special dietary requirements mean that they're limited to what they can eat and that baking, specifically, is very difficult.  I've been trying to add more gluten free things to repertoire, but the fact of the matter is that it's a lot more expensive and it's difficult for me to justify spending all the extra money on "safe" ingredients when they will likely go bad before I'm able to use them up and get my money's worth.  I've tried some of the packaged mixes (Betty Crocker makes brownies and cakes and Bob's has a ton of different things, from pancake mix to chocolate chip cookies) and while they're all good, they're not great.  Seems to me that the best way to make something gluten free is to have all of the right flavors with none of the dangerous stuff.

I recently learned that there are ways to make most everything gluten free without buying fancy or special ingredients, simply by changing the flours that you use.  Since wheat is off-limits, so are wheat byproducts, like regular white flour.  However, almost everything can be ground into flour - including gluten free things, like almonds and rice and potatoes.  It's not a one-to-one exchange, but knowing that I can make little tweaks and adjustments to current recipes (provided that everything else in the recipe is also gluten free) is PRICELESS.  The chart below is certainly not all inclusive for all of the wheat flour substitutes, but if you're either gluten free yourself or cooking for someone who is, then this should be helpful!

I've done some research on substituting almond flour for regular wheat flour, and it looks like it's usually a one-to-one exchange... as long as you have actual almond flour, not almond meal.  The difference is that almond flour will be really finely ground, while almond meal will be coarser and still have the skin.  Since there's no gluten, both almond flour and almond meal will react differently with the wet ingredients.  You'll most likely need a little more, so start with a one to one swap and go from there. (Almond Flour Baking Primer and Baking with Almond Flour Meal)

This should go without saying, but if you're allergic or sensitive to almonds, DON'T USE ALMOND FLOUR!

Now... on to the recipe...

Joe's sister, Melissa, has been texting me all weekend about how awesome these brownies are.  I'll be honest: they are really delicious.

They're moist and chewy like any good brownie should be.  They're chocolatey, which is always important.  Truthfully, that was the part that had me the most concerned: I've never made chocolate brownies or cake without using cocoa powder, so relying on melted chocolate made me a little worried.  Going to the grocery store worried me, too, since I was having a really difficult time finding two GF candy bars that would compliment each other enough to be in the same recipe.  I've had Endangered Species before (Joe sells them at work) and truthfully, I've never had a bad bar.  Sure, I like some more than others, but they're all really, really good.  They're also gluten free.  They have a ton of different varieties, too, and a portion of the profits goes to support habitat preservation.  Each bar features a different endangered animal on the front label, with the inside label telling you more about the plight of the animal.
The rhino and tiger are the stars of these brownies

The almond flour adds a nutty flavor to the brownies, which compliments the chocolate really well.  Oh, and Melissa can eat them without dying, which I guess is a good thing, too. =)

The only thing that makes me sad about these is that Joe can't eat them since he's allergic to almonds.  I'm really excited that I finally have something I can bring to family functions, though, so I'm going to keep playing around and see what other flavor combinations I can come up with.

What are some of your favorite gluten free recipes?

Gluten Free Espresso Hazelnut Toffee Brownies
To print this recipe, click here

Endangered Species 72% Dark Chocolate with Espresso bar (tiger), broken into squares
1/2 cup ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
3/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Endangered Species 72% Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee (rhino), chopped into chunks

Preheat oven to 325°F and grease a mini muffin pan; set aside
In a microwave safe dish, melt ghee and the Endangered Species tiger bar
Stir in honey and eggs
Add almond flour, vanilla and sea salt
Fold in the chocolate chunks
Fill each muffin tin with 1 tablespoon of batter
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean

Let brownies cool.  Run a knife around the outside edge of each mini muffin and lift each one out, carefully.  It may help to use a spoon here so you can get underneath the brownies.  Store in an airtight container and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No-Bake Thin Mint Truffles

Remember how back in January I talked about Joe buying a ton of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies?  We still have some, and he was kind enough to "allow" me to have a half a box with which I could do whatever I pleased.  I wanted to eat them, but I had a ton of recipe ideas involving Thin Mints/other cookies, and thought it would be a good idea to try one of them out.

These no-bake truffles are amazing.  They're super easy to make, take barely any time at all AND only use three ingredients! Obviously, I made mine with Thin Mints, but if you don't have them, you can easily substitute them with Keebler Grasshoppers (if you want minty ones), but I'm also thinking about trying them with Oreos and chocolate chip cookies.

My recipe made about 20, but since I was playing around, I didn't really want to make too many and then have them not be so tasty.  If you need to make more, you can easily double, triple, etc. the recipe.  I originally tried combining everything with a wooden spoon, but you'll want to skip that and just use a fork.  Trust me, it will make your life a million times better.

Also, the amount of the melting chocolate is a guess.  You know those little baker's dipping chocolate things that come in the little microwave container? I had about 1/4 of one of those left in the fridge from something else, plus I had bought a 10 oz. bag of Candy Melts at Michaels that I used about half of.  If you have leftover chocolate or candy coating that's already been melted, you can stick it in the fridge in an airtight container for later use.  Most of the packaging recommends storing it for up to a week or two, but I've used it older than that and never had any issues. 

What's the last few-ingredient recipe you made that came out better than you expected?

No-Bake Thin Mint Truffles
To print this recipe, click here

1 roll (approx. 16 cookies) Thin Mints or Keebler Grasshoppers
2 Tbsp. brick cream cheese, softened
7 oz. dipping chocolate and/or candy coating

Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and set aside.

Put the cookies into a ziplock bag and squeeze the air out.  Seal the bag.  Using a rolling pin, crush the cookies into fine crumbs (you don't want any big chunks).

In a bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and the cream cheese.  Using a fork, cut the cream cheese into the crumbs until the cream cheese disappears (no white spots!) and a thick dough forms.

Roll the dough into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet.  To keep mine uniform in size, I measure out a teaspoon-full of dough for each one.  Place the baking sheet in the fridge to set, about 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate or candy coating according to package directions.  Drop each truffle into the chocolate/candy coating, coating completely.  Use a fork to lift truffles out of the chocolate and drain the excess.  Place back onto prepared baking sheet.  Once all truffles are covered, place back into the fridge to set, about one hour.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Oh, Boston you're my home!

This isn't even remotely food related, but sometimes you just have to get things off your chest.

First, all is okay in my neck of the woods! I live about an hour west of Boston, which is both relieving and scary.  Relieving, because everyone I know is fine. 

Scary, because I have been on those roads.  I've spent entire days in the city, and for three years of grad school, the city was my second home.  I've always loved Boston, but spending so much time there made me fall in love again. 

I (and my friends and family) EASILY could have been in Boston yesterday for any number of reasons: there was a Red Sox game early in the day, there was a Bruins game scheduled for the evening, and it was a nice day out (and a holiday, though everyone I know had to work).  And, of course, the Marathon. 

So.  A million reasons to have been in the city, and I wasn't. 

I'm not "from" Boston in the literal sense of the word, but seeing the first responders and the outpouring of support makes me proud to be a Masshole.

The Boston Marathon hosts runners from all over the country and the world, so just in case you haven't seen these numbers yet:

If you're looking for someone: 617-635-4500
If you might have seen something: 800-494-TIPS

Also, Google has a person finder set up where you can share information: http://google.org/personfinder/2013-boston-explosions/

 photo boston-city-skyline_zps44794a71.jpg

Friday, April 12, 2013

Funky Monkey Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting

First, a note about the title of this post: I've decided to call these "Funky Monkey" cupcakes because saying "chocolate chip banana bread cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream frosting" is a mouthful.  And right now, my mouth is too busy eating cupcakes.  Or maybe they're really muffins.  Either way, they're delicious.

Now that I'm finally feeling better (note: whatever this stomach bug thing is that's going around is AWFUL), I've been a beast in the kitchen.  This past week, I made three things.  Well, *I* actually made two things, and Joe helped (!) with the other.  Posts on those will be coming shortly, I promise!

For Passover a few weeks ago, I bought a bunch of fruits and vegetables.  I went to the farm stand and got a great deal on bananas - 59 cents a pound!  Unfortunately, the smallest bunch they had was 3 pounds, so I ended up getting a lot of bananas.  Which also means that a lot of bananas went bad.  I couldn't make banana bread just yet, so I peeled them and stuck them in the freezer to use later.  This ended up being a great idea, since being sick prevented me from using them when I wanted.

The bananas take a little while to defrost, but the wait is totally worth it.  They were a little mushier than normal, non-frozen overripe bananas, but for this recipe, it really didn't make a difference.  When you thaw them out, they're going to end up sitting in some liquid.  I tasted it and it tasted like banana water, so I decided to leave it in and not drain it off.  Ultimately, the choice is yours.

My recipe calls for 3 bananas and I had 5, so I did the recipe that follows x 1.5.  I ended up getting 24 perfectly shaped cupcakes.  I've never made cupcakes or muffins with the original recipe, but I would imagine that you'll get at least 12-18 cupcakes without adding to the recipe.

The cinnamon frosting was pretty much a shot in the dark, as while I was waiting for the bananas to defrost I decided that it sounded like a delicious combination.  Turns out - I was right!  The honey adds a really nice, complimentary balance to the cinnamon, so the frosting is just the right amount of sweet and spice.

The recipe itself is from an old family friend who was always doing wonderful things in the kitchen, both when her kids had friends over and just because - these kids always had the best snacks at recess! The instructions for mixing the ingredients are a little strange, but don't let it prevent you from trying this recipe.  The results are totally worth it: whether you make these into cupcakes (or muffins) like I did, a cake or a loaf of bread, you will end up with a fluffy and moist banana bread that tastes incredible.

Joe is not the biggest fan of banana bread, but he really liked the cupcakes AND the frosting! I sent him to work with a few (naked and frosted) and everyone has been gushing about them.  Also, while I was trying to take pictures of these for you, Slayer decided she needed to get in on the action and see what all the fuss is about.  I don't even know how I was able to actually capture this picture, but it's definitely one of my favorites!

Slayer approves!
What's the best picture you've ever taken?

Funky Monkey Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting
To print this recipe, click here

3-4 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. oil
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c. chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mash bananas and mix with sugar
Add baking soda and salt, mix well
Stir in 1 cup flour and mix until combined
Add eggs and oil
And 1/2 cup flour, stir
Fold in chocolate chips

For bread: bake at 325°F for approximately 1 hour, until top is slightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean
For cupcakes: bake at 350°F for 20 minutes, until tops spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean

Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioner's sugar
3 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp milk
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon

Cream butter until smooth and fluffy.  Add honey and 1 cup of sugar, beating until combined.
Mix in remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time.  If frosting is too thick, add milk and mix thoroughly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add cinnamon and beat until combined.
Frosts approx. 36 cupcakes

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Banana Ice Cream

I originally wanted to post this a few weeks ago (you know, when I actually made it), but then Passover started before I had a chance, and it seemed more timely and imperative to share my KFP recipes.  Then, Passover finished, but I got sick, and the thought of food made my tummy do lots of weird and unmentionable things.

Today, I'm finally feeling better and want to talk about something I've seen on Pinterest.  Supposedly, according to the pseudo health-gurus on Pinterest, you can make your own banana ice cream at home, without the use of an ice cream machine.  I was skeptical, but since all you needed were some overripened bananas, I was game - especially since I wasn't really in the mood for banana bread.

All you do is peel your bananas and slice them into coins, then stick them in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up.  I was looking for recipe ideas and saw that you could do this with strawberries, too, as long as you added them to the bananas.  As luck would have it, I had some strawberries in the fridge too that needed to be used quickly (thanks, old man winter).  After looking online, you slice and freeze those, also.

To make the ice cream, you just put your bananas into the food processor or blender until they cream and resemble soft serve.  This is pretty much where I started having problems.

I do not have a food processor, but I do have a blender.  A semi-working blender.  I love my mom, but she gave this blender to Joe and me for... some reason that I forget.  Anyway, I'm pretty sure this thing was on her registry when she married my dad because this thing is OLD.  It works, if your patient and don't really mind lumpy frozen margaritas or lumpy shakes and smoothies.  Actually, now that I think about it, I think she got a new one and said "here, have my old blender, it still works!".  Which, I guess technically it does "work", since it does turn on when I press the button. 

At any rate, I had to add the bananas only a few slices at a time, and I could only add a couple of strawberries at a time.  It finally got mixed, and I decided it needed to be thickened a little, so I added one of those individual go-packs of peanut butter.  Strawberry banana peanut butter ice cream sounded good, but strawberry banana peanut butter chocolate chip sounded better (go big or go home, peeps), so I stirred in some mini chocolate chips, too.

Since the aforementioned blender is almost assuredly from the 1980s, this took a lot longer than expected.  When I finally got everything mixed up, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it looked! It looked like too-soft soft serve (probably because it had been out for so long), and I had seen online that you could freeze it and it would be like hard ice cream.  So, that's what I did.

Only, when it came out of the freezer, it wasn't really like hard ice cream at all.  The texture was really grainy and was more like italian ice than anything else.  It still tasted really good, but I ended up throwing it away because it was too difficult to get it out of of the container, even after leaving it to sit on the counter and soften up for 10 minutes.

I don't really want to call this a fail, because I don't feel like it was, but it was definitely a learning experience.  I'd definitely be willing to try this again, with the proper equipment.  I still don't have a food processor as I don't really need one in my regular day-to-day cooking, but if I can find one for cheap, I'll get it.  If she's reading this, maybe mom will let me borrow hers so I can gave this another go.  I think I'd also try to find CORRECT ice cream storage containers.  Even though my container that I used was/is freezer safe, I think the fact that it's not really designed *for* ice cream impacted the texture of the final result.

Homemade banana ice cream without an ice cream maker definitely has potential, but I'm also not going to put too much stock in it.  Truthfully, I feel like this was all hype with nothing to special to show for it. I have some recipes for homemade frozen yogurt that use Greek yogurt as a base, and those seem like they have much more potential than this.

What's the last thing you made that didn't quite come out the way you expected?