Potluck Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are my nemesis. Correction: lemon bars were my nemesis. Let me explain.

I consider myself a slightly better than average baker. I’ve made some pretty mean tarts, cookies, biscotti, panna cotta, and even macarons. Many of my baking attempts have seen a deep inhalation as I pulled the tasty treat out of the oven in anticipation (and hope) that the treat came out OK. Most of the time, it works out.

With lemon bars, it never worked out. Either the crust burned quicker than it should have or the lemon topping remained thin and watery when it should have set. Why? I couldn’t tell you. After 3 failed attempts years ago, I resigned myself to the conclusion that lemon bars were just not my specialty.

This past weekend, some friends came over for a potluck that I planned. I knew other people would be bringing desserts, so I decided to give lemon bars one more go. If I failed, there would be other desserts available, so I wouldn’t have to worry about baking a back up item.

Wouldn’t you know it, they (almost) came out perfectly!

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I stuck to a super simple recipe, and I think these came out great.

Ingredients:

For the crust:
2 cups flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 sticks butter

For the lemon filling:

4 eggs

4 tbsps flour

1 cup sugar

4 lemons’ worth of fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

To start, I let the butter and eggs come to room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, then start making the crust. I put the butter, flour, and powdered sugar in my mixer and mixed for a couple minutes, until both ingredients are well incorporated and smooth in texture.

Spray a 9×13 pan with non-stick spray, and press the crust into the pan, trying to make the dough evenly distributed. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the crust starts to get a little golden in color. Remove from oven and immediately pour the filling over the crust.

While the crust is baking, start working on the filling. Using a mixer, beat together the eggs, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and zest. Mix for longer than you think you should, as this is how the filling will thicken up when baking. I saw some bubbles forming while it mixed, and that was normal. Mix for at least 2 minutes.

Once the filling is over the crust, immediately return the pan to the oven and continue baking for another 22 minutes. To test the bars, wiggle the pan a little bit. If they are done, the filling will remain firm and won’t wiggle along with the pan.
I think my misstep this time was waiting to pour the filling over the crust. Right when the crust was done baking, Dan arrived home with lunch, so I took a short break from baking. I think that letting the crust cool some caused the filling to not stick as well to the crust. Other than that though, these bars came out great, with just the right amount of tart and sweet, and the right consistency.
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I’m so glad I finally found a recipe that works for me. I’ll definitely be making these lemon squares as my go-to summer dessert.

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Belated Mother’s Day…with Cake

A day late, but I had to share this delicious cake I whipped up for Mother’s Day with you.

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It’s a mango bundt cake!

It tasted tropical and wonderful.

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For decoration, I added the fun Mother’s Day cake bunting that I printed from here.

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If you want to make the cake, there’s a great tutorial for it here.

I hope everyone had a wonderful day!

Orange Pistachio Date Biscotti

OK, wow. With the hopes of not sounding too high on myself here, I have to say that I think these are the best biscotti that I’ve ever made. The taste, the texture, and the combination of flavors really make these great.

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The texture was not exactly what you’d expect from a traditionally hard cookie. These biscotti are softer, and don’t need to be dipped in coffee/milk to eat.

Here’s what you need:

6 tbls butter (softened from sitting out on the counter)

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

3 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
zest of 1 orange

raw turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the butter, sugar, salt, extracts, and baking powder.

 Beat in the eggs and then add the flour in, a little at a time, until the mixture is fully incorporated.

Gently fold in the dates, pistachios, and zest and only mix the batter up a little bit.

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Form the dough into 2 logs on a baking sheet prepared with parchment paper. Make sure the tops of the logs are flat and sprinkle the raw sugar on top. Bake the logs for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, remove the logs from the oven, and turn the heat down to 325 degrees.

Then, even though it seems strange and certainly isn’t the usual way I make biscotti, spray the logs with a spray bottle full of water. Don’t drench the logs, but do make sure to fully cover them with the water.

Wait 5 minutes, then cut the logs into biscotti. Lay them with a cut side down on the pan, and bake another 15 minutes. Then, flip each cookie and bake for a final 15 minutes. When they are a little golden, they are done.

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Remove the biscotti from the oven and place them on a baking rack to cool. Once cooled, immediately put them in an airtight container so they won’t get stale.

The date-orange-pistachio combination really is wonderful. I invite you to give this recipe a try, substituting your favorite dried fruits for the dates. I will definitely be using this base recipe and changing out the mixed in fruit, nuts, and even types of extract.

Flower Power

These cookies look straight out of the seventies.

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But their bright colors were just the pick me up needed on a drab, rainy, flood-filled day like today.

Baking these were a breeze. In the same way I made these red carpet star cookies for the Oscars Party I attended, I made windowpane cookies in a flower shape.

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It didn’t make the rain go away, but they were really good to eat. If you’re stuck inside, give these a try.

Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry

Spaghetti squash was on sale at the store last week. I’d never had one, but in the hope of being healthy, I bought it to see what I could make with it.

I ended up deciding to make a stir fry, using the spaghetti squash “noodles” in the place of rice. Plus, I used the stir fry as an opportunity to use up all the veggies that have been sitting in my fridge.

Though this stir fry takes a while to make, the steps are really easy.

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Here’s what you need:

1 spaghetti squash

Veggies: I used an onion, green pepper, mushrooms, and even peas

1 tbsp canola oil

garlic powder, salt, pepper, to taste

1 cooked, cubed chicken breast

2 tbsp soy sauce

1/4 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

sriracha, to taste

Start by pre-heating the oven to 375. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place each half cut side down on a cookie sheet.

Once the oven reaches temperature, put the squash in for about 55 minutes, checking after 45 minutes to make sure your squash doesn’t turn to mush.

I knew the squash was done when I stabbed it with a fork. You will easily be able to pull the squash into strings. It should look like this.

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Then, I just started pulling the squash into strings.

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I got a large amount – much more than I expected – from the one squash.

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When the squash has been turned into noodles, chop up the veggies and heat the oil in a skillet. Cook the veggies and add in the garlic powder, salt, pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, and sriracha. Just before the veggies are fully cooked, add in the chicken.

Finally, when the chicken is warmed, add the squash noodles. Keep cooking until the noodles are heated, then, serve.

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Nutella Sea Salt Cookies

Dan’s turning the big 2-9 this week. I know, he’s old.

This past weekend, we went out with some friends to celebrate. I asked Dan what he wanted me to make for desert, and he specifically told me no cakes or cupcakes. No cakes or cupcakes? It’s a birthday party, isn’t it? What was I supposed to make?

In the end, I came up with Nutella cookies topped with sea salt, which came out perfectly.

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These could not have been easier to make. I followed this recipe, forming cookies that were a bit smaller than directed.

I wanted something bite sized, since the cookies would be eaten on the go. In hindsight, cupcakes probably would have been more difficult to eat, but I still stand by the thought that everyone needs some cake on their birthday.

As the cookies were smaller, their cooking time was 8 minutes exactly. They came out chewy and sort of brownie like in their consistency.

These are quite a treat for anyone who likes chocolate, not just Nutella-lovers. And the big grains of sea sale really add to the cookies – eating something salty makes sweets seem sweeter.

Go ahead and give these a try!

Marshmallow Bark Bars

These were another Easter treat, but you can easily make them for any occasion, or no occasion at all!
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Ingredients:

3 cups miniature marshmallows

1 tablespoon shortening

1 bag white chocolate chips

Sprinkles (optional)

To start, get your pan ready. I used a 9×13 inch baker for the job. A regular  cookie sheet will be too big, and your bars will be really flat. Use a smaller pan. Line it with parchment paper so the bars don’t stick to the pan.

Next, measure out 3 cups of the mini marshmallows. You can use the plain white kind, but the pastel- colored ones are more fun and add some great colors to the bars. I actually used the Easter bunny shaped colored marshmallows, which are a bit bigger, but worked fine. You can probably find them at the store for pretty cheap right about now.

Put the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl, add the shortening, and melt the chips in the microwave. Remember, less is more when microwaving white chocolate chips. I would recommend starting off with a minute of heat, then take the bowl out and stir. You should only need a couple more 30 second increments at the most. Even if the chips don’t look completely melted, stir and they will become more melty. My chips only took about 1:30 until they were ready.

Now, you have to move quickly. Pour the marshmallows into the melted chocolate chips and stir thoroughly. Once combined well, spread the mixture out in the parchment paper lined pan. Add the sprinkles before the bars start getting hard, or else they won’t stick.

Put the pan in the freezer for no less than 30 minutes. The chocolate needs to fully harden before you can cut into bars. Once the mixture is set, remove the pan from the freezer and cut into bars (or use cookie cutter to make shapes, if you prefer).

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I stored them covered at room temperature until the next day.

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Beware: These bars are super sweet. Kids will probably love them, but adults might find them to be a little too much.