Monday, April 30, 2012

Meyer Lemon Bars

On Saturday I was in a rare baking mood and wanted to use up the Meyer lemons Jane had given me. My lemon bars have a very good reputation because I use Alice Medrich's recipe from her book Cookies and Brownies. She is a master at baking and has done all the work for us-all we need do is follow in her footsteps. I've made her lemon bars many times and they have always been a favorite of Abigail and her friends, especially Anna Lee. I made Anna Lee lemon bars for many years for her birthday. She always requested them and it was my pleasure. They're one of my favorites too.

Meyer lemons are slightly sweeter than regular lemons so I have cut down on the sugar. Add more sugar if you don't use Meyer lemons. I have also been using Bob's Red Mill evaporated cane juice sugar. It seems to give baked goods a wonderfully deep flavor not unlike brown sugar.

(Meyer) Lemon Bars my way

To make the crust:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

Butter a 8" square pan on the bottom and up the sides. Preheat the oven  to 350 degrees and position a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, do not burn. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour and mix until incorporated. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, crust should be well browned at the edges and lightly brown in the center.

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
3 large eggs
grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice

Make the topping while the crust is baking. Stir together the sugar and flour and whisk in the eggs. Add the lemon juice and zest. When the crust is done, slide it out of the oven without removing it from the oven and pour in the topping over the hot crust.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the middle no longer jiggles and the edges are puffed. Set on a rack to cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the top. Cut into bars to serve.

The Meyer lemons made wonderful bars. I took some to my neighbor and her family and Mike and I nibbled on the rest. I was able to smuggle a small one out to my cousin Elizabeth at work. She pronounced them the best lemons bars and the way lemon bars should taste. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 29, 2012


My friend Jane brought me Meyer lemons from her brother's yard, a specialty, where I live. Meyer lemons are alittle sweeter than regular lemons with darker pulp and an orangey essence. They are wonderful in desserts. Ann Sheaffer Gilbert on Facebook Foodies had posted a lemon ricotta cake and now I had Meyer lemons and ricotta from the Torta Pasqualina left over. I love lemon desserts. They are probably my favorite, more than chocolate.

Meyer Lemon Ricotta cake

9 tablespoons insalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
pinch kosher salt
1 cup ricotta
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 Tablespoon baking powder
powdered sugar to decorate

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter 9 or 10 inch spring form pan. Cream the butter and sugar together in a standing mixer until light and fluffy. On the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time. Slowly add the next 5 ingredients.

Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the side start to pull away from the pan.

Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and cool completely on the rack. Sift powdered sugar onto the top. I used a stencil to make a pattern.

Variation #1

I peeled and chopped 1 mango. Then processed with a few pulses in a food processor. I added the mango to the batter and mixed it in thoroughly. I cooked it for about 5 minutes longer.

The first cake went to our neighbors and the second one was for Mike and I. I actually have more ricotta so might try it again. It's light and not too sweet. It would be wonderful with fresh fruit or in the morning with coffee. Thanks to the wonderful cooks from Facebook Foodies and in my life for constant inspiration. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lamb curry meatballs!

In the May issue of Food & Wine Grace Parisi has a recipe for Mini Meatballs India Curry. Here's the link.
Well meatball, India and curry are some of my favorite food words and the meatballs are ground lamb-even better! I started to make them one night without reading the complete recipe, good lesson. The recipe includes cooked rice. I had brown basmatic rice which takes almost an hour so I was not cooking these meatballs that night. I made the rice and decided to cook the meatballs the next night. So take a clue from me and read your recipes through completely!

Mini-Meatball Indian Curry my way

~3/4 pounds ground lamb
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
small knob of peeled fresh ginger, grated
1 large garlic clove, peeled, cored and pressed
1/2 cup cooked brown basmatic rice
1 large egg
~1 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon garam masala
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablesppon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, peeled, cored and pressed
2 teaspoons medium-hot curry powder (I used 2 different kinds for fun).
6 tablespoons raw almond butter (recipe called for cashew butter, I couldn't find any and decided not to make it so I substituted almond butter)
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
small handful of cilantro, chopped
warm naan, for serving

Preheat the broiler and position a rack in the top 1/3 of the oven. In a mixing bowl, knead the lamb with the jalapeño, ginger, garlic, rice, egg, cilantro, garam masala and salt and pepper to taste. Roll the mixture into ~15 balls and place on baking sheet sprayed with vegetable spray. Broil for about 10 minutes, until the lamb meatballs are nearly cooked through and the tops are lightly browned.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil. Add the onion, cover and cook over high heat, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in the almond butter and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato juice and 2 cups of water, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.

Add the meatballs and any pan drippings to the sauce, cover partially and simmer over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve with leftover rice and warm naan.

I served these meatballs with cauliflower roasted with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and smoked paprika and the combo with warm naan and cuury lamb meatballs was irresistible. These are truly some of my favorite flavors, textures and spices and it did not disappoint. I served this with Sonoma Landing Pinot Noir and it was a good match. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ham continued

Right before Easter when people start planning their Easter brunches or making reservations conversations seem to be very food related like Thanksgiving. Easter is one of the great eating holidays. I think one of the reasons is that it corresponds with the beginning of spring. This recipe by Lynne Char Bennett was in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday April 1st. Can you hum "a few of my favorite things"? Ham, asparagus, cheese, eggs! Here's the link

I had ham in my freezer from Christmas and I bought a rustic loaf of bread from my neighborhood bakery, Ponsford Place An amazing gem close to home that makes me happy that I live in such an area.

Asparagus & Ham Bread Pudding

rustic whole wheat bread, crust on and several days old to dry out, cut into chunks
vegetable spray, as needed
large bunch of asparagus, trimmed and chopped
about 2 handfuls of ham, diced
5 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
~4 ounces Asiago, grated

Spray a ~9" baking dish and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Whisk eggs in a bowl, then add half-and-half and salt and pepper to taste, and whisk until well combined. Set aside.

Place one layer of bread on the bottom of the baking dish tightly and press down gently. Top with half of the asparagus, ham, green onion and tarragon; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top with the remaining bread.  Place the remaining asparagus, ham, green onion and tarragon on top and pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread and filling.

Place a piece of parchment paper on top; gently push top layer of bread down into the custard a few times. Allow to sit until bread absorbs as much of the egg mixture as it can, about 15-20 minutes.

Place a piece of parchment on top of the bread pudding, then cover tightly with foil.

Place dish in the oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and parchment; sprinkle with cheese over all. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until a skewer comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes more.

Serve warm.

 This was pretty amazing. We had it for dinner but it would be a great brunch meal with fruit salad and Mimosas. Of course I love the fact that it has everything in one dish, protein-check, green veggie-checks, whole grains-check. Mike was happy, I was happy-score! Leftovers were great heated up. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter fun

On the Facebook Foodies group I belong to we eagerly discussed what we were thinking of cooking for Easter weekend. There were traditional dinners and non-traditional, for families or couples and even one person who cooks for a nursing home. This last person, Doug, posted a link to a recipe called Tarta pascualina which is a spinach and egg pie traditionally eaten during Lent. The photo was so beautiful and looked so delicious I printed out the recipe. Here's the link from Hispanic Kitchen It comes to us from Italy via South Ameica.

I get lovely eggs every week from my colleague, Don's farm in Sebastopol. Part of the appeal of this recipe to me was the photo showing a hard boiled egg in the pie, so cool! And I had the perfect eggs!

Tarta Pascualina my way

1 red onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled, cored and pressed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2-10 ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach, defrost, drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
small fluffy handful of Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 eggs (4 for the top of the pie, one for the filling, and one for the egg wash)
2 artichoke hearts, chopped
freshly ground nutmeg to taste
1 teaspoon crushed red chiles
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pie crusts

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a deep 9" springform pan with vegetable spray.

In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onion for several minutes and add the garlic to the skillet, continue cooking until translucent. Remove from the heat, and allow the onion and garlic to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the onion, garlic, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts, nutmeg, chiles, salt, and pepper. Taste the mixture and season to taste. Add 1 egg to the mixture and mix well. Carefully line the bottom of the pan with one of the pie crusts. Spoon the filling into the tart pan.

Smooth the top of the filling, and make four deep, evenly spaced wells in the filling. Crack an egg into each hole, if it looks too full hold back some of the white of the egg. Cover the filling with the second pie crust, and seal the crust by crimping the edges together. Vent the crust in the center with a sharp knife making a "X", and then brush the crust with a beaten egg for color and shine. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown and the filling has set. Allow the pie to cool before serving.

This dish was as beautiful as it was delicious. Mike said that part of the reason it was so good was the crust. I used the Fearless Baker pie crust recipe and left out the sugar. Here's the recipe.

Basic Pie Dough

2 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
pinch of kosher salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
~5 teaspoons cold water, I fill a small bowl with water and some ice and ladle tablespoons as needed

Place flour, salt and butter cubes in food processor bowl. Pressing the pulse button quickly, pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of small peas. It happens quickly so don't overmix. Add the 5 tablespoons of cold water and pulse just until the dough is crumbly. Stop pulsing and squeeze the dough gently to see if it comes together without being dry. Add more water if still dry. Do not process to the point where it forms a ball.

Dump the dough out and form into 2 balls, 1 larger than the other. Flatten into disks but do not over handle them. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour or if in a hurry, in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Let the dough warm up slightly to roll it out.

Roll out each disk on a generously floured surface. Roll out until larger than your pan, using the larger disk for the bottom of the pie and reserving the smaller one for the top of the pie. Try to roll it evenly thick and round. Fold the disk into fourths to transfer to the pan.

This was a delicious vegetarian dish and would be great for a brunch or supper any time of the year. Enjoy!

Monday, April 9, 2012

When Matzo meets ham

Passover and Easter were over the weekend. I don't think that happens too often and since I grew up in the South I think of ham. I have also lived in California for ahem, 30 years, ahem so I conjure up visions of lamb and asparagus and spring creations. I've spent Passover with my cousin many times so her chopped chicken liver, matzo ball soup and brisket make me drool.

So with all these things in mind my friend Jane brought me a recipe of matzo covered with caramel, almonds and chocolate that she had made for her brother for Passover. This recipe is from the April issue of Bon Appetit magazine by Missy Robbins.

I didn't really change much because I had never made this before but I have to say buy good honey to make your caramel. I bought delicious local clover honey and I believe it made a difference. The caramel was outstanding. I also bought evaporated cane juice sugar for the first time. This is fine crystals of light brown sugar prepared from unrefined, minimally processed juice of sugar cane.

The original recipe calls for margarine due to kosher laws regarding mixing dairy and meat at a meal. You learn something new everyday. Jane had substituted butter with good results.

Matzo Almond Croccante my way

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
5 sheets unsalted matzo
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey like clover or wildflower
1/3 cup sliced (not slivered) almonds, lightly toasted
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 67% cocoa), melted

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Place matzo on sheet in a single layer, breaking as needed and overlapping slightly, leaving no gaps.

Stir sugar, butter, honey, and 1/4 cup water in a heavy saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium high and boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is a deep amber color, ~13–15 minutes. Pour caramel evenly over matzo. Immediately sprinkle almonds over. Let cool. Be careful. It's incredibly hot and sticky.

Drizzle melted chocolate over caramel. Let stand until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces.

Mike would have preferred if I had made this with a lighter chocolate like semisweet. I love the dark chocolate. I also read the other day not to use chocolate chips because they are processed more than other chocolate and contain additives to retain their shape, not very appetizing.

The caramel made me alittle nervous because I was worried about over or under cooking it but if you follow these directions you shouldn't have any problems. I melted the chocolate in a makeshift double boiler and everything came together quickly. As much as I loved this I knew I'd eat too much of it so I gave it to my neighbor with a new baby and grandparents in town. I would definitely make it again and experiment with different kinds of chocolate and nuts. The original recipe called for sea salt and cayenne pepper, maybe next time.

I have a dish involving ham and asparagus planned next and will let you know how it turns out later this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012's vegetarian

My friend Jane and I often share recipes and often pick the same recipes out of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. So even though she doesn't eat red meat and hates pork (I can't imagine!) we are mostly on the same page food wise. She bought me a couple of pages she had copied from Oprah's magazine with several yummy sounding recipes. One of the first I tried is a butternut and chickpea salad with tahnin dressing. It was a no-brainer. Butternut squash is my favorite of all squashes and I love tahini! Chickpeas or garbanzo beans are also a hit around here. Here's a link to Deb Perelman's blog where the recipe is from

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing my way

~1 1/2 cups dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (I've found a melon baller gets the seeds out most efficiently.)
1 garlic clove, peeled, cored and pressed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
~1/2 small red onion, chopped
chopped parsley or cilantro as garnish

1 garlic clove, peeled, cored and pressed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini, room temperature if kept refrigerated
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place beans in large enough pot to cover with water, add some salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 45-60 minutes until beans are soft but not mushy. Drain and place in large serving bowl.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for ~20 minutes, or until just soft. Cool slightly and add to garbanzo beans in bowl.

While the squash is cooking, make the tahini dressing. In a 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and add salt to taste. Add more lemon juice or water to blend if necessary. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Add onion to bowl and mix gently. Drizzle with tahini dressing and toss gently. Sprinkle chopped herbs on top of salad. Serve warm or room temperature.

I was going to serve this with some chicken or turkey sausage but since we had a late lunch I wanted something lighter. Mike usually wants meat at dinner and doesn't always like beans but he loved this and said how much he loved garbanzos! Maybe I can sneak in vegetarian meals more often. This is definitely something Abigail would enjoy and I hope to make it for her when she's home in May. I think would be good the next day after flavors really melded too but I would warm it slightly or let it come to home temp before serving rather than serving it cold. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pasta again!

Spring has sprung and what not as my friend Bo says so my mind turns to asparagus, strawberries and artichokes. I saw a yummy looking recipe in the San Francisco Chronicle by Sunny Liu. Here's the link This is a quick and delicious dish showcasing asparagus.

Chicken and Asparagus Orzo my way

1/2 pound orzo
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 half skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced and slices chopped
3 cloves large garlic, peeled, cored and pressed
2 tablespoons white wine
~1 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
~1/2 cup chicken broth
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

Bring a well-salted pot of water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente, shaving about 1-2 minutes off package cooking time; drain and set aside.

In the meantime, warm a large non stick skillet over medium-high heat, and add about 1/2 of the olive oil. Season chicken well with salt and pepper. When the oil is very hot, but not smoking, add chicken pieces. Brown about 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan; heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook about 1 minute more.

Add the wine, and simmer for about 30 seconds. Stir in the asparagus with 1/4 cup of the chicken stock. Cook for about ~5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in the drained orzo and cooked chicken; add the remaining chicken broth to loosen the mixture, plus more if needed, and cook, stirring, for another minute or two until everything is heated through and blended.

Season to taste and garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if desired. Serve warm.

This was light and spring like and very quick to cook. Mike and I really enjoyed it and it was a wonderful one pot dish. All we needed was a glass of white wine and some fruit for dessert. It would also be lovely with peas or zucchini and also with mushrooms. Enjoy!