Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Birthday Blog

Happy almost 1-year anniversary, blog.  I just went back and read the first post that I wrote shortly after my 25th birthday.  It's funny to read the things you wrote a year ago, it's like a snapshot into a past state of mind.  But for all that has happened in the past year, it seems like a lot has remained the same, except now I am 26 and my grandfather is 98.  But I'm still on Nantucket, still gardening, and still cooking as much as my crazy work schedule allows.  I do intend to leave the island in December though, so that is kind of like a next step.  Perhaps I will get a bakery job when I move, start learning the "biz."  We shall see, who knows...

In any case, it's been a fun (almost) year, and I'm glad that all of you who are read my occasional musing do so, because I enjoy sharing what I'm up to, even when I can't share it in person (although that's always the best--I love cooking for people).  Please keep commenting, because I like to know what you like (and what you don't), and if you've tried any of the recipes. 

I have a few things to write about, but at this moment I want to itch my legs off (poison ivy, the likes of which I've never had before in my life), so I need to find some calamine, and then I need to go to bed, because my eyes are drooping and I feel like I'm writing nonsense.

Goodnight for now, and thanks again for reading!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Luscious Lemon Bars

May I, just for a moment, sing the praises of the lemon bar?  Gosh, I love those things.  Breakfast, snack, dessert, whenever.  I will never tire of them.  I love all sorts of lemon desserts, but I think the humble yet delicious lemon bar is my favorite.  

I had occasion to ponder these bars of wonder last weekend, for the final Armchair Theatre of the season.  I can't remember if I've written about Armchair on this blog before or not, and I'm entirely too lazy to look through the archives, so I may be repeating myself.  Feel free to skip ahead if I am.  Armchair Theatre is organized under the auspices of Nantucket Theatre Workshop.  Once a month from January to June a kind person volunteers their home for a play reading, done from chairs, hence the "armchair" part of the theatre.  Anyone who wants to attend may do so, the only entrance "fee" is a dish for the potluck that precedes the play reading.  Inevitably there is too much of one kind of food at the potluck, and it will switch from month to month.  In February the AT fell on Valentine's Day, and about half the the attendees brought brownies, in heart shapes or otherwise.  May also had lots of dessert, so I knew June would be lacking in the dessert department.  I also knew I didn't want to go to the store, so I had to make a dessert that could be thrown together from things I already had around.  Luckily, lemon bars fit the bill.  All you need is one real lemon, which I had, and then you can use bottled lemon juice for the rest, which I always have on hand.  And it was a good thing I did: only one other person brought dessert, just as I guessed.  Needless to say, the squares were a big success!

Before making lemon bars for the first time I assumed that they were complicated, that achieving that perfect sweet-sour lemony filling on top of the crumbly, buttery crust was difficult.  As it turns out, it's not one bit difficult.  These bars have what I consider to be the optimal crust to filling ratio, about 1:2.  I know this is a matter of personal preference, but I think these are pretty darn perfect.  Before I had a lasagna pan I tried fussing with the quantities so that it would fit other sized pans, but I never quite got it right.  This recipe is perfectly suited for the lasagna pan, so if you have one, use it, and if not, it is a worthwhile purchase, if only so you can have perfect lemon bars every time.

Lemon Bars (From the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
Makes about 30 bars

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
* 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into squares (1 1/2 sticks)
* 4 eggs, slightly beaten
* 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
* 3 Tablespoons flour
* 3/4 cup of lemon juice
* Zest of 1 lemon
* 1/4 cup milk, cream, or half & half
* Additional powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a lasagna pan (9" x 13") with foil, then grease the foil.

2. Combine the 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add butter pieces, and cut into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  

This is what the crust will look like when the butter is sufficiently incorporated

3. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and press the crumbs evenly around the pan with your fingertips.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

3. While the crust bakes, make the filling.  Combine the eggs, granulated sugar, 3 TBS flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and milk in a bowl.  Pour the filling over the hot crust and put it back in the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the center is set.  

 The foil makes the bars easy to lift out and cut

4.  Cool on a wire rack.  Dust the top with additional powdered sugar and cut into bars.  If any of the edges are particularly uneven or over-browned, cut them off (and sneak them while no one is looking :)  Store in fridge until ready to serve. 

 Serving them in cupcake papers makes for a nice & neat presentation


Banana Pancakes

Apologies for the absence, readers.  Don't think I haven't been cooking--I have.  I just haven't had time for the blogging part of the cooking blog.  Here's how my days have been breaking down lately:

Work: 12 hours
Sleep: 8 hours (ha!) 
"Commuting" to work: 1 hour
Morning routine: 1 hour 

So that leaves about 2 hours in the day for the rest of life (cooking dinner, cleaning, laundry, collapsing on the couch, email, facebook...)  Yeah, blogging hasn't been fitting in too well lately.  Luckily there are Sundays, when I do all that stuff that I neglect during the week (which would be most of that list, minus the email & facebook, which I can't seem to wean myself off of.)

Sundays are also a great time for pancakes, which is what this post is all about.  Banana pancakes, specifically.   I always have overripe bananas kicking around, because when I buy a bunch I will only eat the first 3 or 4.  If I were smarter I would just buy 3 or 4 bananas at a time, but alas, I am not.  98% of the time the overripe bananas become banana bread, so I was extremely happy to stumble upon an alternate overripe banana recipe in People magazine last month.  I made them last Sunday with half of the bad bananas I had sticking around, and then made them again today since the other half of the bad bananas were really really really bad bananas at this point.  Although the smell and texture of overripe bananas makes me a little queasy, as soon as you add flour and sugar and eggs and heat, somehow it's all good.  In fact, it's all great.  I don't know how that works, but it does.  The bananas keep these pancakes amazingly moist, not at all dry and bready.  It also somehow lubricates the whole wheat flour, which this recipe uses, so again, nice and moist, not like the hockey puck pancakes that my friend Shannon described when someone else cooked her whole wheat pancakes.

Last weekend I made some blueberry sauce to go with my banana pancakes, because I was out of maple syrup.  I just took a couple of cups of frozen blueberries (though fresh would work, I just happen to have lots in my freezer), and cooked them in a sauce pan until they were unfrozen and mushy, then added just enough light brown sugar (though any sweetener would do), to make it sweet and syrupy.  While I liked the banana pancakes with the blueberry sauce, I actually preferred them with straight up maple syrup.  But don't get me wrong, the blueberry sauce was excellent (as a bonus, I was inspired to brush my teeth immediately after eating, which doesn't often happen on Sundays!)  I ate most of it out of the pan, actually, since I made way too much.  I think I will try it again with vanilla ice cream, or perhaps blueberry shortcake, instead of strawberry...?  Things to try.  But in the meantime, try these:

 Blueberry sauce, delicious right from the pan.

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes (From People Magazine)
Serves 2-4, depending on your appetites

* 1 cup of whole wheat flour (you can obviously use white, if you prefer or if that's all you have)
* 1 Tablespoon white sugar
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 healthy dash of nutmeg
* 2 healthy dashes of cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 ripe to overripe bananas, mashed
* 1 egg, beaten
* 1 cup of milk
* 2 Tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
* Sliced bananas and/or strawberries, to top (optional)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl

2. In a larger mixing bowl, mash bananas.  If your bananas aren't so ripe they're soggy you may have lumps, but fear not, those taste good.  Mix in egg, milk, oil, and vanilla.  

3. Add dry ingredients to the wet, and stir in until it's all moistened.  It's okay if the batter is lumpy.  If the batter seems too thick to you (mine did), thin with about a tablespoon of milk.

4. Heat a griddle or frying pan and oil or butter lightly over medium heat.  When a drop of water will sizzle on the hot pan, add approximately 1/3 cup of batter.  Cook until the edges are dry and there are lots of bubbles on the surface of the pancake.  Flip, continue cooking for a minute or two until golden brown.  Serves with sliced fruit, if desired, and lots of maple syrup (you don't want these to be too healthy, after all!)  Enjoy!

This is what your pancake looks like when it's ready to flip.  You probably 
already know this, but for the pancake neophytes out there, now you know, too.