Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sugary Lemon

The weather has been gorgeous this week (except for the torrential downpour on Wednesday) and springlike, so I wanted to make something refreshing and "springy." I know I said I was going to stop making so many sweets in my last post, but I just couldn't resist making this recipe.  Thus, lemon bars.  And since they have "lemon" in them, I choose to believe that they are healthier than some alternatives.  I have a recipe that was given to me by a family friend and it is my absolute favorite.  Tangy and sweet filling with a delicious bottom crust.

(Also, notice the new plates that I got on sale at Nordstrom Rack. Love them.)
For the crust, the recipe says to blend the butter, flour, and powdered sugar together with a pastry cutter. I do not have a pastry cutter, therefore, I used a metal whisk and just "mashed" it up and down.  Truth be told, I say it works just the same. Then again, I've never used a pastry cutter.  :)
I've tasted many a lemon bar and these are always my favorite.  There's a perfect proportion of filling to crust and dusted with powdered sugar.  They also freeze really well. Cut them into individual squares, wrap them in saran wrap, then put them in a big ziploc in the freezer and it works great.  Here's the recipe if you would like to try them!

Lemon Bars

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
6 oz. cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used salted)

6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
1 cup + 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Plus 3 tbsp powdered sugar for sprinkling on top.
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend ingredients for crust with pastry cutter. Press into a 9x13 dish. Bake 20-25 minutes. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
Mix eggs and sugar and flour. Add lemon juice. Pour immediately over cooled crust. Bake until set 40-50 minutes. Let cool and then chill before cutting. Dust with powdered sugar.

My oven is finicky, so I had to bake mine for 55 minutes.  Also, I didn't used "fresh" squeezed lemon juice, I just had a cheap bottle of it that I used.  I think it would make the flavors stand-out pop even more if you added some fresh lemon zest to the filling.  Hope you enjoy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cinnamon Swirl Goodness

I've decided I need to come up with other things to use my pretty pink mixer for besides sweets.  Baking all of these items has been delicious and fun, but has not been kind to my waistline.  Especially now that I'm not training for a marathon, the equation looks like this: Same appetite + More time for baking - Crazy running miles = Increase in size. Not good.  So, making other "non-dessert hopefully better for me" items begins now.  After this post, that is.

First,  I wanted to tell everyone that I re-tried making the dulce de leche for the oatmeal cookies the correct way.  I let the can of milk simmer in water for 3 hours then let it cool down, as the recipe said.  But, I tell you what. I thought the way I made it tasted better.  I'm not entirely sure what I did to mine when I cooked it soley in a pan, but my version didn't taste so much like "caramel-colored" sweetened condensed milk.  It tasted more like a sweet, chewy, caramel spread.  The correct way produced prettier, brown colored goodness, but wasn't as tasty.  Just so you know.

Onto this week's baked creation.  Ever since my boyfriend, Ryan, gave me my pretty pink mixer, he's been asking me to make him cinnamon swirl coffee cake.  He LOVES the stuff you can get at Starbucks and always talks about his mom making it for him for special occasions.  So each week I ask him, "What do you think I should make?" He says, "Ooo, cinnamon coffee cake!!" I say "Eh. How about blondies with ____ (insert M&M's, cinnamon, etc.)??" He says "Or that." But I felt generous this week and decided that by golly, I was going to make him cinnamon swirl coffee cake. 

Honestly, after searching some of my favorite blogs for recipes, I ended up just google searching for one and came up with King Arthur Flour's recipe for a cinnamon streusel coffee cake.  The website is actually very user friendly and included tips and tricks for perfecting this recipe, as well as comments from fellow bakers. I used this recipe for their Cinnamon-Streusel Coffee Cake

I followed the recipe to a T.  It gave you options for types of milk and yogurt, etc. I used skim milk and non-fat greek yogurt for those two items.  Also, it says to bake the coffee cake for 55-60 minutes. I had to leave mine in for an extra 15 minutes (total of 75 minutes) because the thing just wouldn't cook in the middle!

Here is a picture of me trying to multi-task. I have the milk simmering away on the stove in that pot, while I'm trying to alternate adding flour with the milk/yogurt to the mixer. Disaster.

Good thing I have an automatic swiffer.

Finished product=cinnamon swirl goodness.  My favorite part of the whole thing is the streusel topping. So so good. Ryan's reaction..."this is better than Starbucks!" I'm pretty sure he has to say that, but I'll take it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Absolute Oatmeal Deliciousness

So I've been on an oatmeal kick lately. Oatmeal for breakfast. Sometimes oatmeal for lunch. Possibly oatmeal for dinner. It's just that good. Not just any oatmeal, but oatmeal with ALMOND butter on top of it. Pretty much the best meal. Ever. You can add other toppings, like bananas, apples, trail mix, craisins, but never without the almond butter. In light of all this oatmeal eating, I decided I wanted to BAKE something with oatmeal. I love butterscotch oatmeal cookies, but not that big of a fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, because I don't really like raisins. Hence the reason I went on a search for some other options.  I stumbled upon a recipe from Monica at Lick the Bowl Good for what she claims are the "best oatmeal cookies she's ever had." Not only did the cookies sound good, but she made oatmeal sandwiches out of them with homemade dulce de leche. YUM.

The best thing about these cookies is that I had ALL the ingredients on hand. Two weeks in a row, I'm getting good. Not only that, but I've become better about my time management and set the butter out to make these a few hours before so that I could get it to room temperature. Genius.
I followed the recipe that you can find here. The cookie dough was absolutely amazing! I just wanted to eat it raw (bad, I know), because it was so so good. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and oatmeal=absolute deliciousness. Some of the dough did make it in the oven and made chewy, sweet cookies.
While I mixed up and baked the cookies, I put my can of sweetened condensed milk into a pot of boiling water then slowly let it simmer for a few hours.  Like I said before, I've never made dulce de leche, nor have I ever boiled a sealed can of milk. Weird.  Here's the deal. The recipe says you have to cook it for 2-4 hours for it to turn a nice caramel color. Well, you know me,  I have very little patience, if any at all. I made the mistake of trying to make all of this after work one night (I get home at 7:30pm) but didn't put my can to cook until around 8ish, so by the time 10:00 rolled around I was EXHAUSTED and didn't want to wait for the milk to keep cooking. So I took it off the burner and started to let it sit and cool like I was supposed to. Once again, no patience. Decided I didn't want to wait for it to cool, so just started opening the can. Bakers beware: boiling a can of milk in hot water and opening while it is still hot results in scalding sugary milk spewing all over your hands. Ouch. Lesson learned, let cool before handling. 

But here is where the REAL disappoint comes in. My milk had BARELY caramelized---ugh. I was determined to have some sort of dulce de leche, though, so I poured the milk into a pot and put it on the stove.  I let it cook on low heat for about 20 minutes and ended of with a thick, slightly caramel colored dulce de leche.  Put it in between two cookies and it was delicious! 
I completely agree that with or without the dulce de leche goodness, these oatmeal cookies are indeed the best I've ever had. I cannot. stop. eating. them.  Oh well, once they're gone, they're gone, right?
I definitely suggest everyone try these. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Have you ever heard the "Peanut butter jelly time" song or seen the ad with the dancing banana?  If not, go here first. Pretty funny and I can't help but sing the song almost every time I make something with peanut butter and jelly (and usually that's a sandwich).  For starters, I was raking my mind for what else I felt like baking this week--I thought about lemon bars and cupcakes, or challah and pretzels, or some sort of fancy dinner, but nothing really sounded good.  Then I found this recipe by Martha Stewart for "Peanut Butter Jelly Bars." YUM. 
Currently, I'm on a cookie bar/brownie kick-M&M blondies?  Check. Snickerdoodle blondies? Check. Orange blondies? Check. Batter brownies? Check. So when I read the ingredients for these PB&J bars....2 1/2 cups of peanut butter and 1 1/2 cups of jam? Yes, please. 

I came home from work wanting to make them and lo' and behold, I had ALL the ingredients already and didn't even have to go to the store.  Well, almost all the ingredients.  The recipe says to sprinkle crushed peanuts on top, but the bars already have 2 1/2 cups of peanut butter in them so who needs extra peanuts?  

I got to work mixing the butter and sugar with my pink kitchenaid, then it says to add the 2 1/2 cups of peanut butter. Hm. I only had 1 1/2 cups. It was too late to "half" the recipe since I had already added the butter, sugar, and eggs, so I just used a cup of crunchy almond butter instead. Nut butter is nut butter right?  The dough ends up being really thick and you spread 2/3 of it into a greased pan (it says to butter and flour the pan, but I'm pretty sure that's what PAM is for).  Slather on jelly...I used red plum jam and to the other 1/3 of the dough, I added a 1/2 cup of oatmeal. Oatmeal+peanut butter=delicious.  Sprinkle Dollop the dough over the jelly then bake.  

These bars were super yummy but even a small piece of one made me want a big glass of milk to wash it down with (and that's saying a lot because I don't usually drink milk by the glass).  Next time, I make these, I will add more jelly so the PB to jelly ratio is more even.  Right now it's like 5:1 and I would like it to be 5:3.   They also taste better the next day and not right after you take them out of the oven. Cut them and taste them while they're still hot=burned tongue from scalding jelly.  

Peanut Butter Jelly Bars
Martha Stewart Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam, or other flavor
2/3 cups salted peanuts, chopped

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan with butter and flour.  Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. On medium speed, add eggs and peanut butter, beat until combined, about 2 minutes.
2. Whisk together salt, baking powder, and flour.  Add to bowl of mixer and beat on low speed. Add vanilla. Transfer two-thirds of mixture to prepared pan, spread evenly with offset spatula. Using spatula, spread jam on top of peanut butter mixture. Dollop remaining third of peanut butter mixture over jelly. Sprinkle with crushed peanuts.
3. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Let cool and cut.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Vegas Brownies

Whenever I think of Las Vegas, I think of bright, flashy lights, extravagant shows, slot machines, black jack, and the phrase "winner winner, chicken dinner!" This coming from a girl who had never been to Vegas before this last week. On Wednesday, my boyfriend Ryan and I met another couple in Las Vegas for a vacation.  Now I don't know how to gamble and didn't feel like my black jack skills were up to par with the level of players that were at the tables, so I stuck to the slots machines with my friend, Lucy.  One particular marchine yelled "Hotshot!" and played jazzy music everytime a certain picture came up---I'm pretty sure that phrase and song will forever be burned in our minds after playing it so much.  The hotels were amazing, I felt like we were in some sort of fantasy world.  My only complaint for Vegas was the SMOKINESS of every single casino.  Coming from Austin where practically every restaurant and bar is "smoke-free," I was overwhelmed with wave of smoke that hit you everytime you walked into a hotel casino.  My clothes smelled like it, my hair smelled like it, and my eyes would get red and itchy from staying in it. Blah. 

Also, while I didn't lose a ton of money, I didn't come out on the upper end either. Pretty sure electronic slot machines only let you win enough to keep you playing, then make you spend it all and lose it again on the same machine.

On another note, the weather was really nice and one of my favorite parts of the trip was getting up in the morning and going running on the strip with Lucy.  Best way to sightsee when it wasn't nearly as busy as it would be later in the day.
One of the stores along the strip was an M&M store---four floors of M&M madness.  Whenever we ran by it, I immediatly thought "hey, I should get fun M&M's from there and make something for my blog." Ding, Another lightbulb. I remembered seeing a recipe for some really delicious looking blondies on another blog awhile back using pink and red M&M's for Valentine's Day. Perfect!  So dragging along the boys, we went back to the M&M store later that day so I could mix and match my own colorful arrangement for my blondies.

As soon as I got back to Austin, I immediately wanted to set to work on these. I couldnt't wait to use my pink mixer.  I found the recipe online from here for Brown Sugar Blondies and once again, I was thrilled by it.  Recipe called for MELTED butter.  Doesn't get much easier than that.  No room temperature stuff for these tasty treats. 
These blondies were so simple to make. I only wish I had doubled the batch so it would make more of them! They are sweet and buttery and wonderful. (And pretty with my personal color choice of M&M's)

I was too meticulous with the placement of M&M's on top of the batter. The recipe says to sprinkle 1/3-2/3 cup of M&M's over the top, but I individually placed them and didn't put enough so they looked kind of bare taking them out of the oven. No worries. I had some extra M&M's leftover and sprinkled them on top afterwards.
 This recipe is definitely going in the "make-again" folder. Hope you try it and enjoy!