Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mom's Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are simply luscious.  Rich shortbread, smooth, tart and tangy lemon filling and a nice sweet dusting of powdered sugar.  I know it's cliché to say that your mother makes the best this or that.  I do love these though.  I'm sure the recipe came from a good friend or relative back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  And they are wonderfully easy to make.  Just mix up a simple shortbread, pat it in a pan, bake it off, top it with the filling, bake again and dust with sugar.  Lemony heaven in a little handheld package.  These are not the sickly sweet, barely citrusy lemon bars that come out of a box.  They have a great pucker to them like a lemon tart.  This particular recipe is not made with sweetened condensed milk in the filling, I don't really go for those kind myself: not tart enough.  Growing up, we would often make them with a batch and a half of filling to yield a mouth puckeringly lemony bar.  If you are a serious lemon lover, feel free to try them that way.  I like them with slightly more filling than cookie.  Just don't double the filling.  It is too much and will slide off when you cut them.  (Ask me how I know.)  ☺  Depending on the type of crust you prefer, you can either cream the shortbread with a mixer, or pulse it in a food processor.  Creaming gives a result similar to a Russian Teacake - rich and melt in your mouth.  Blitzing with a food processor to small pebble texture will give a slightly more crisp shortbread/cookie crust.  I like both kinds and it really depends on what I care to wash up after I've made the crust.  Of course fresh lemon juice is better and gives the opportunity to add some zest either to the filling or the crust as you see fit.  I zest one lemon into the filling mixture with a microplane grater.  Be sure to mix the filling gently and by hand.  Using a mixer whips in too much air and you won't get that beautiful, gem like yellow filling.  That clear, brilliant color is another thing I love about this recipe.  Give it a try, it always goes fast and gets repeat requests for recipes and "please bring it again!"

Mom's Lemon Bars

1 cup butter
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
6 tbsp lemon juice (fresh squeezed is better - save some zest for the filling)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
Extra powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line a 9x13" pan with parchment or tin foil and lightly grease.  This makes removing the bars to cut SO much easier.  Cream butter and powdered sugar and mix in flour just until blended.  Or cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers until clumps start to stick together.  You can also combine flour and powdered sugar and pulse into butter using a food processor until pebbly.  Press into the pan.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until light golden brown.  Meanwhile beat eggs and lemon juice together in a medium bowl with a fork.  Combine the ¼ cup flour and sugar and beat in gently with a fork.  Try not to whip any air into the filling mixture.  Pour onto crust, (doesn't matter if it's hot right out of the oven) and bake for another 20 minutes.  The edges will be bubbly and the center will have just a slight jiggle but will be set.  Cool on a rack for a few minutes and then dust with powdered sugar to your liking.  Let the bars cool halfway before trying to remove or cut and they will hold together much better. 

For presentation, cut off the bubbly edges as they are somewhat chewy and serve the perfect squares to guests and so forth.  Save those trimmings for yourself or your family.  Or yourself.  Yes, yourself should do nicely.  (Seriously, we always fought over the edge trimmings growing up.)  Depending on how you line the pan, you may need to cut off the short edges to get the rest free to lift out.  Ask me if there are any edges left of the batch I made a few hours ago...  ☺

Monday, December 6, 2010

New England Chowder for a change

Something about constant cold weather makes me want soup all the time.  It's warming, comforting and good for you to boot.  Especially when you can use homemade broths.  The girls and I prefer Manhattan style clam chowder most of the time.  It's what I grew up with.  But my darling husband really prefers New England style clam chowder.  So, every so often I'll make up a batch of that for him.  Judging from the vocalizations and slurping I hear coming from the table right now, this batch turned out really well.  The first time I made New England clam chowder, I looked up dozens of recipes and tried to create something that had the elements my hubby prefers.  Chunky potatoes, little celery if any, good clammy flavor, and not too terribly thick.  Thickness of chowder is a very personal preference.  I grew up loving it quite thick but now I think I like it just nice and creamy.  More of a soup and less of a stew.  We also love bacon in our chowder, but have found that you can keep it reserved to add after serving if you have a vegetarian in the family and the soup will still taste good.  I usually add a bit of butter to make up for the lost bacon grease.  Gives it more flavor.  So here is my take on New England style clam chowder.  If I still lived on the coast, I would use fresh clams when possible, but for everyday and out of season I have found a brand of canned clams that I really like.  It is therefore twice the cost of the standard brand of clams and clam juice.  Oh well.  I stock up when they run it on special.  The cream makes this a nicely filling and immensely satisfying soup, so go easy.  You can always go back for seconds.  ☺

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 6-8

4 (6.5 oz.) cans chopped clams, undrained (Bar Harbor is a brand I have found to be more tender and less gritty than others available.)
2 (8 oz.) bottles clam juice + 2½ c water (or fish stock if you have it - I happened to have some in the freezer that I used in this batch.)
6-8 slices thick, good bacon, chopped  (Hempler's, if you can get it, is exceptional bacon.)
1 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 tsp minced garlic, optional
3 tbsp flour
4 medium yellow potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp dried thyme (a sprig of lemon thyme is fabulous if you have it.)
~1 tsp sea salt or to taste
¼ tsp white pepper
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 cup heavy cream
3 shots tabasco sauce
fresh gound pepper to taste

Fry bacon in stock pot over medium low heat until crisp, but not crunchy.  (I like to use kitchen scissors to snip it right into the pot.)  Remove and set aside in a bowl.  Feel free to add an extra slice or two to deal with passersby snitching pieces to snack on.  (Who me?  Blink blink...)  Keep about 1 tbsp bacon grease in the pot. 

Add the tbsp of butter and saute the onion, celery and optional garlic until softened.  (I don't often use anything but fresh anymore, but the jarred minced garlic is good in this case as it doesn't overpower the chowder.) 

Add the flour to the onion mixture and cook for about a minute. 

Slowly whisk in the clam juice and water or fish stock.

Add the bay leaf, thyme and potatoes and simmer over medium low heat for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Remove bay leaf.

Add cream, clams with juice, parsley, white pepper and tabasco.  Bring to simmer and season to taste with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

You may thicken this soup more if you like with flour, starch or instant potatoes.