Lemon Bars

Spring has sprung, and although on one hand this is expected, so many things are new as if for the first time.  California poppies line the highways and byways of daily travel.  Sunlight in the evenings invigorates.  The sun seems to be everywhere … in the sky, in the mood, and in the food.

Lemon Bars

inspired by the amazing Ina Garten

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
    3 cups sugar
  • 2 TBS grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 cup flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  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. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Try not to eat too much of the “extra bits” as you do this.  Chill.

2.  Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

3.  For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

4.  Cut into bite sized pieces and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Notes:

  • My favorite grocery store has the most wonderful lemons in stock.  They are the size of limes and just full of juice.  These were certainly what got me onto the lemon bar kick.
  • Lemon bars make great thank you gifts for people who have jumped in to lend a hand.  😉
  • I love this plate.
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Linguini with Sausage and Zucchini

“Pasta with.”  About twice a month we have what I’ve come to call “Pasta with” for dinner.  Sometimes it is spaghetti with cheap canned sauce.  Sometimes it is tortellini with pesto.  In the summer, it’s often bow tie pasta with fresh tomatoes, a bit of olive oil, and torn basil.  Winter begs for pasta with Sunday Gravy.  In order to accommodate the preferences in the household, the pasta is drained in the colander and the “with” is in a skillet or bowl nearby.  Everyone gets as much pasta and much topping as desired.

But then, I was watching a bit of Lidia on the local public TV station. Lidia doesn’t seem to do pasta with, but does pasta in.  Long story short, I’ve been playing with ingredients, proportions and timing for a few months now and have finally found the perfect weeknight dish.  One, it is really tasty.  Two, the timing is, dare I say, perfect.  Put the water on the stove, get the skillet heating, prep the veggies and sausage, start cooking the pasta at the same time as the other ingredients, and both finish at the exact same time.  Bon Appetit.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb linguine
  • 2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed,
  • 1/2 lb medium shrimp, shells and veins removed
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 in pieces
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 TBS Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Set pot of water and pan on medium – high heat while ingredients are being prepped.
  2. When water is boiling, set pasta in water.
  3. Add sausage to pan, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.  Add tomatoes, and stir for 1 minute.  Add zucchini, and let set for 2 minutes.  Add 3 ladles of pasta water to the pan, followed by the garlic.  Let cook another 2 minutes.  Add shrimp and stir the mixture gently.
  4. Drain pasta in a colander.  The shrimp should be a bit translucent in the middle, but go ahead and add the pasta to the pan.   Using tongs, gently mix the sausage and vegetables into the pasta.  The pasta will absorb the liquid in the pan.
  5. Plate and top with a bit of Parmesan if desired.

Notes:

  • This recipe / technique has been tried and tried again at home.  Finally I came upon the correct timings, ingredients, and flavors. Enjoy!
  • Yes, this was tried with wine, but I found that the wine and sausage were just not a lovely pair.
  • Adding the tomatoes at the start was a stroke of perfect luck!  They add into the flavor, aroma, and color of the dish in the most beautiful way.
  • Mmmmmm, finely diced garlic in pasta broth.  Heaven!

Nutella Crepes

Let’s try a bit of logic today to figure out why it took so many darned years to make these delectable treats.  We will have two individual logical equations followed by one that connects the two.

  • LivinLocal does not like hazelnut flavored coffee beans.
  • LivinLocal does not line hazelnut flavored coffee additives, hence
  • LivinLocal does not like hazelnuts.
  • Nutella contains hazelnuts, hence
  • LivinLocal does not like Nutella.

Secondly,

  • LivinLocal usually manages to get food to stick to her expensive nonstick pans.
  • LivinLocal never has sticking problems with her cast iron skillet pans.
  • LivinLocal wants to make crepes.
  • Making crepes requires ninja crepe flipping skills
  • LivinLocal has no such ninja crepe flipping skills, hence
  • LivinLocal cannot make crepes because they require a nonstick pan and she is unable to use one properly, and crepes require ninja crepe flipping skills that are not currently evident.

In conclusion,

  • LivinLocal will not be able to make crepes nor would she like any Nutella filling

In short, wrong!   So, in avoidance of the clear lapses in logic above, we move quickly to the recipe.

Nutella Crepes

Crepes inspired by Paula Deen, Nutella inspired by my daughter

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups low fat milk
  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 4 TBS butter, melted, plus a tad more for the pan
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs until light and frothy.  Vigorously whisk in remaining ingredients until incorporated, allowing for some small lumps to remain.   Set aside for 20 minutes.
  2. Heat a nonstick saute pan over medium heat.  Add a touch of butter, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add just enough batter (a scant 1/4 cup) to coat the bottom of the pan when swirled around.  Allow to set until the edges bubble lightly.  Gently flip the crepe and cook for 30 seconds on the other side.  Transfer to a plate. Continue making crepes until the batter runs out.
  3. Place one crepe on a plate, schmear Nutella on half of the crepe.  Fold in quarters.  Repeat.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Notes:

  • Yes, the serious whisking burns enough calories for you to have a second crepe.
  • The recipe called for 1/4 cup of batter in the pan, but that was too much.  When I got the technique down, I found that just over half of that was needed.
  • These crepes include enough butter in the batter to keep them from sticking.  Even with my pans.
  • People told me that after tossing the first crepe, the rest would be easy.  Let it be known that I tossed crepes 1, 3, 4, and 7 before getting the hang of it.
  • Crepes will become a regular part of my repertoire as they are really quite fun to make!

Deep Fried Pizza

Spring is arriving in this little nook of California.  The trees are showing off their spectacular blossoms, the asparagus is peeking out of the earth and the harvest has begun.  Strawberry stand owners are seen getting their little shacks ready to open for business.  The Brentwood Sweet Corn has been planted but doesn’t seem to be growing quickly yet, which is the only thing making local foodies grumpy.  But that happens every year.  We have the, ahem, pleasure of seeing this delicious food being planted and watching it slowly grow for what seems like six months before actually getting to cook up those cobs and munch away.  All in all a perfectly lovely time of year.

During our recent Spring Break, the husband and son went to Arizona to watch the first rounds of March Madness.  That left the 16 year old daughter and I at home on our own.  So what do we do?  Go on a total homemade junk food bender, of course!  Here my friend are directions on how to shop at a perfectly healthy grocery store and turn those prime ingredients into the most delicious junk food you have ever made at home.  Bon Appetit.

Fried Pizza

Adopted from the Panzarotti recipe in James McNair’s Favorites which is actually a book full of healthy recipes

Ingredients:

  • pizza dough
  • fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • pepperoni, sliced
  • marinara sauce
  • vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees in a dutch oven or other heavy pot.
  2. Roll out pizza dough into a rectangle and cut into 4 smaller rectangles.
  3. On one side of each rectangle, spread a bit of pizza sauce, and top with cheese and a few pepperoni slices.  Fold over and pinch the edges tightly, as if making empanadas.
  4. Fry one at a time, turning frequently until golden, about 5 minutes.  Remove and drain on paper towels.

Notes:

  • I purchased all but the oil at Trader Joe’s.
  • Not being a pepperoni fan, I used zucchini in mine.

Chicken in Coconut Gravy

Have you ever waited around and waited around and waited around for something to happen and it didn’t, so you just piped up and did it yourself?  At work, years ago, we shared monthly pot luck meals.  There was usually a theme, but that was not necessary.  It was just so comforting to share a good meal with people that depend on each other every day.  But the organizer moved away, and stuff happened, and times got rough with the economy, and I wondered what I could do to bring back shared warm experiences with this group of people.  Gathering a few partners in crime, we just set up dates and themes for the year, and voila, food and people appeared!  Food and stories are once again being shared, and we’re just enjoying some relaxing time together.  Mission accomplished.

A bonus to being part of creating themes is that my favorites get included!  We all love the fresh produce in the area, so salad bars and finger foods always include amazing local delectable treats.  This group loves soup, so that will be one theme.  But me?  I just love stuff over rice.  Veggies over rice, stir fry over rice, and especially curry over rice.  Luckily, a friend renamed it “goodness over rice” which was a wonderful advertising improvement.  This is my favorite curry recipe from my favorite curry cookbook that has been reworked for my own home kitchen and was well received at our shared meal.  And isn’t that what it is all about anyway?  Sharing food, sharing stories, and sharing time together.

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

Adapted from the recipe “chicken in thick coconut gravy” in 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi

Ingredients:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup almond flour (almonds pulverized in a spice grinder until powdered)
  • 5 TBS canola oil
  • 15 dried arbol chilies
  • 4 heaped tsp coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • 3 green cardamon pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 4 cloves
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 cups onion, diced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 ¼ lb boneless chicken, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • salt
  • water

Directions:

1.  To a large skillet heated over medium heat, add 1 TBS oil to coat the pan and the chilies.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring often.  Add the coriander, mustard, cardamon, and cinnamon and cook for just under a minute.  Add the cumin, peppercorns, cloves and turmeric, cooking 1 more minute stirring constantly.

2.  Put the spices, coconut milk, almond flour, 1 cup of the onions, and cloves into a blender.  Blend until it becomes a smooth paste, about 5 minutes.  Add water if the mixture becomes too thick to blend.

3.  To the skillet heated over medium low, add 3 TBS oil and the remaining onion.  Sauté slowly until just turning golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Add the spice paste and one cup of water to the skillet.  Stir to mix thoroughly.  Add the chicken and cook over low heat, covered, 15 minutes.  Remove the lid, add ½ cup water and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce reduces to the desired consistency.

Notes:

  • It is imperative to have the spices measured out and ready to use before step 1.
  • The original recipe used fresh coconut and required creating your own first and second extracts of milk.  I found by trial and error that using canned coconut milk with ground almonds produced a very similar consistency.
  • Buying all of these spices in the spice rack of pretty bottled spices at your local store would put you back a pretty penny.  Look for the spices in small bags in the Mexican or Indian sections of the store.
  • For those who like to double some of their spices, do not double the cardamon pods as they are quite strong in flavor and will easily take over the dish.
  • For the work potluck, I complete the steps through the sauteed onion, then put everything in a crockpot that I brought to work and plugged in to cook the chicken.

Pepperoncini Stuffed with Cajun Crab

Ready to add a delicious appetizer to your repertoire?  Looking for a bite sized tid bit to bring to the New Year’s Party that will stand out and make your friends swoon?  This is exactly what you’re looking for.

The recipe comes from the winners of Food Network’s first Food Network Star competition.  Dan and Steve won as a team and did a great job combining party foods with tips on how to create a fantastic event.  They were the perfect tag team kind of pair, and I loved them. You haven’t noticed them lately?  Ever?  That feeds into my theory that the Food Network competition style moves the best of the middle to the top and then is disappointed when the show doesn’t deliver.  But, that’s a gripe for another day.  Today, give these a try and watch them disappear before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

Pepperoncini Stuffed with Cajun Crab

from Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh on the Food Network

Ingredients:

  • 36 pepperoncini
  • 1 lb cream cheese at room temperature
  • 8 oz crab meat, shredded  (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 TBS Cajun seasoning
  • 1 TBS hot sauce
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions:

  1. Cut the stem end off the pepperoncini and carefully scrape out the seeds.  Set aside on paper towels to drain.
  2. In a mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, and thyme and mix until blended.  Gently mix in the crab.
  3. Place the mixture into a zip lock bag, cut off one corner, and pipe into the pepperoncinis. Dip the cream cheese end of the pepperoncini in the chopped parsley and transfer to a serving tray.

Notes:

  • The combination of peppers and spices give this some pucker power that is balanced by the cream cheese.
  • The picture shows the dish with and extra sprinkling of Cajun spices and not the parsley as in the instructions.  Either is wonderful.
  • The original recipe calls for crab claw meat shredded.  Are you kidding me?  Who would ever shred claw meat?  We’ve made this with both canned shredded and packaged chunk meat with great results.  If you can spring for claws, use them as additional bites on their own.
  • We’ve also served the crab mixture as a dip with pita chips.  Yum!
  • They still have a selection of recipes on the Food Network website and nothing by them has ever been a dud.

Smoked Pulled Pork with Carolina BBQ Sauce

We’re stretching out the summer.  Hanging out on the back deck.  Making sure we get out and walk while the weather is good.  Getting those tomatoes from the farm stands that we waited oh so long for.   If you can handle stretching out the planning and preparation of a meal, yet don’t want to do too terribly much actual work, this is for you.

The pork for the sandwiches is brined, smoked, pulled and finally doused with a zesty vinegary sauce before being piled high on a soft bun.  We are talking some serious piggy love here!  If you haven’t brined anything before, this is a perfect time to give it a try.  Brining simply involves heating flavorful liquid, cooling the liquid, and soaking the meat in the liquid before cooking.  Yes, it stretches out the cooking process but is certainly not difficult.  If you don’t have a smoker at home, you can use a slow cooker (8 hours on low) for meat with the same texture minus some smokin’ love.   And speaking of stretching, that’s what you’ll need to do after devouring this amazing sandwich.

This sandwich was adapted from a restaurant recipe provided by The Oinkster on Food Network.

Print versions:  BBQ pulled pork sandwiches Carolina BBQ sauce

Smoked Pulled Pork

Ingredients:

  • 5 – 6 pound pork butt
  • 2 gallons water
  • 1 ½ cup salt
  • 2 cups soy sauce
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ½ cup sugar

Directions:

1. Boil 1 gallon water with salt, soy sauce, honey, molasses and sugar. Add remaining 1 gallon of water. Cool.

2. Add pork, cover and set in a refrigerator 12 to 24 hours.

3. Let pork drain on cooling racks and come to room temperature. Smoke over applewood chips at 250 degrees for 5 to 8 hours until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 170 degrees.

4. Use forks to pull the pork into pieces. Douse with Carolina sauce and serve on soft buns.

Carolina BBQ Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 qt apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 TBS red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 TBS dry mustard
  • 2 TBS worcestershire sauce
  • 2 TBS molasses
  • 2 TBS tomato paste
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil over medium heat, simmer for 10 minutes.

Notes:

  • How good is this?  We made it twice in the same week,  first on the smoker and later in the slow cooker.  While the slow cooker didn’t have that luscious smoky flavor, the texture of the meat was still wonderful and the BBQ sauce added the needed Carolina flavor.
  • After making the sandwiches, I finally went to The Oinkster’s web site and saw the sandwich they made for Diners, Drive Ins and Drives.  Oh my!  They top the pork with slowly cooked onions and red cabbage slaw.  It is a beauty to behold.