Thursday, April 26, 2012

luscious lemon bars

I'd like to submit and argument that this is one of the best desserts ever!  Notice how politically correct I was?  "one of"?  Well, I couldn't help myself because when I was thinking of writing "the best" I was brought to a halt because there is no chocolate involved in lemon bars... and I think, for me, the best dessert must have chocolate involved.

Either way, I'd love to share with you my recipe (adapted and modified from this recipe) for Lemon Bars that are slightly tangy, sweet, and definitely tasty!

What you need...

For the crust...
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
     (feel free to use white, but I find that whole wheat gives the bars a great taste!)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter
     (you could do 1/4 cup butter and 3 tbsp of olive oil or coconut oil - I think it would work ok, but I have not tried this so I wont vouch for how the consistency will turn out...)
1 tbsp wheat germ*
1 tsp cinnamon*

For the filling...
1 cup white sugar
     (or you could substitute Zulka)
3 tbsp whole wheat flour
     (or white - I used whole wheat and it just makes the filling a little darker)
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1/4 cup + 2 or 3 tbsp lemon juice
1 to 2 tbsp lemon zest

2 to 3 tbsp powdered sugar for decoration
9x13inch glass pan

The lemon section of this recipe is really up to you (that's why I give so many options).  If you love lemon then use more!!

Marked with * is optional

Turn your oven on to 350°
Melt the butter in the micro while mixing the flour and powdered sugar (along with the wheat germ and cinnamon if you choose to add it).  Once the butter is melted, add it to the flour mix (with oil if you are substituting) and mix together to form a semi-moist crumbly mixture. 

Take this mixture and press it into the bottom of the 9x13in pan.  You can go up a little on the sides if you want to create a type of 'edged' crust or just keep it to the bottom.  Then stick it in the over for 15 to 20 minutes (I ended up keeping it in for the full 20). 


It's time to make the filling. 
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and baking soda.  Then, in a slightly larger bowl beat the eggs for about 30 seconds or until they are combined (a lovely yellow color).  Add the dry contents as well as the lemon juice to the egg mixture and beat for another 30 seconds. 

When the rust is done, take it out of the oven, pour the filling mixture over the top, and put it back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  It doesn't take as long as you would think for the filling to cook so make sure and check it after 10 minutes just to be safe.  It's done when edges are slightly brown and the center is not 'jiggly' (technical term). 

Let it sit for a few minutes and then you can top with the extra powdered sugar - I used my fine mesh strainer and tapped the side creating a fine misting of powdery goodness.

I'd suggest letting it cool for a 10 minutes or so and then I'd highly advise you eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

chocolate caramel pie

I have to share this amazing recipe originally taken from "Lulu the Baker" - seriously, you have to go check out her blog...right now!  Her recipe is called "Carmelitas" but I've adapted it and call it Chocolate Caramel Pie.  Don't worry, I asked permission from Lulu the Baker to use my version of it here.

What you need...
32 caramel squares, unwrapped
1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 to 3 quart saucepan
9" pie pan

Turn the oven on to 350°
Unwrap the caramels (without eating too many...) and toss them in the saucepan along with the half and half.  Turn on the burner to medium low heat.  Stir the caramels and half and half until the caramel melts and it becomes a smooth sauce.  Takes about 15 min or so, depending. 

In the mean time...
Combine the next six ingredients into a bowl (after melting the butter in the micro).  It will form a crumbly mixture.

Once it's combined, take half of the mixture and press it into your pie pan. Place the bottom crust in the oven and bake for 15 min.

Check out my awesome, bright orange pie pan! -->

Once the 15 minute's are up, take the crust out and top with the chocolate chips.  Then, take the now-melted caramel mixture and pour over the chocolate chips.  Take the left over oat mixture and crumble it over the top of the caramel.

Bake the "pie" for another 15 to 20 minutes (I let it go for 20 to get it nice and golden brown).  Once it's done, pull it out and let it cool on a wrack.   Since I was taking the "pie" to a group meeting, I ended up putting it in the fridge for about 45 minutes or so in order to cool it down enough to be able to eat.

Unfortunately, I don't have a finished picture of this wonderful Chocolate Caramel Pie...All I will say is it went so fast there was no time ;) Remember to check out Lulu the Baker's site - it's fantastic and you'll find more wonderful recipes like this!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lemon-Thyme Chicken

This tangy but delicious marinaded chicken is awesome over brown rice or bulgur wheat (a new favorite addition to meals for me).  It only takes a few minutes to whip up the marinade and about a half an hour for it to sit and soak in the juices.  It's a dinner must in a hectic schedule! 

What you need...
4 oz boneless skinless chicken breasts

For the Marinade...
1/8 to 1/4  cup lemon juice (depending on how much lemon flavor you like - it can be pretty intense!)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp thyme 
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 minced garlic (or dried minced garlic)

2 tbsp half and half
1 tbsp milk (feel free to use 3 tbsp milk - I just had half and half on hand)
1 tsp flour
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese
Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade in a Tupperware container, add the chicken, and (after firmly closing the lid) shake it up!  After it's combined, stick the container in the fridge for about half an hour, turning it over (or shaking it up again) about half way through.

 *Right about now, while your chicken is marinading, you can start your brown rice (or bulgur wheat if you prefer) since it usually takes about 45 minutes.
After the chicken has marinaded, cook it in a frying pan (I sprayed the bottom with some canola oil first) until its mostly done.  Then, add in the marinade into the frying pan and cover with a lid.  This will help the chicken finish cooking while adding more flavor to it and keeping it moist!

Once your chicken is cooked thoroughly, take it out and place it somewhere to "rest".  I just used a plate and covered it with foil.

Now it's time to make the sauce!

With the liquid that's remaining in the pan, add the half and half, milk, and flour to a small cup and stir it up well.  Then add it to the mixture in the frying pan along with the cheese, and stir well.

I let my sauce simmer for about five minutes before I called it "done".  You may also want to taste-test it to see if you need more seasoning or more liquid to thin it out (water can work for that or more milk).

Once your sauce is done and your rice is cooked, you are ready to eat!  I spooned my sauce over the rice and then added the chicken on top.  Feel free to garnish with a little bit more Parmesan cheese.

And that's that!  Simple, and yet super tasty!  As I cautioned before, the lemon is a really powerful flavor so make sure you don't over do it.  If you have a larger family, increase the recipe proportionally and it will work out great!  I served this with salad but a green veggie like asparagus or green beans would also compliment this well.  

Dessert idea...
If you're like me, you'll want something sweet after dinner.  I've recently been stalking this amazing blog called Chocolate-Covered Katie.  Her tag line is: "The healthy dessert blog" but I think it could be called: "The tasty dessert blog"!  Everything she has is vegan, healthy, and it tastes good!  As I make her recipe's, I'll try and share them with you because, seriously, this girl is a genius!

Tonight, I gave her "Cookie Dough Dip" a try and it was amazing!  You may be a tad surprised at the ingredients of the recipe but I promise you that it tastes great.  Personally, I used 1/2 cup of brown sugar for the sweetener (there were a few suggestions and I liked that the best) and it was definitely sweet enough (too sweet according to my roommie!).  Either way, if you like eating cookie dough,  you'll love this alternative recipe!  Go check it out :)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

lemons, lemons, lemons

This post begins Lemon Week!  I'll be posting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of this coming week all on one theme - (you guessed it) Lemons!

You've heard it said, "When life gives you lemons - make lemonade."  Well, as much as I like lemonade, I think there are a few other things you can do with those lemons!  Recently, I was blessed with 5lbs of lemons (locally grown) and at a loss of what to do with them. I didn't want them to go bad so I decided today is the day!

After a few stinging cuts and lots of chopping... I've come away with over 5 cups of lemon juice!!

I'll share with you two methods of extracting that wonderful juice - the hard way and the easy way.  Yes, I've done both.  I put the hard way in here because I know not all of you have a juicer but, because of my promise to you, I've included the easy way too - it just takes a bit more equipment!

The hard way...
Don't get me wrong.  I love a challenge - but this was a little overwhelming.  I mean... 5lbs of lemons juiced by hand?? That is not quick and it's also not easy but I wanted to let you know it is an option.

The best way to do this by hand is to cut the lemons in half, using the juicer (pictured above - it's the wooden thing) and then to squeeze it into a cup or small bowl.  I used the measuring cup but pretty much anything will work.

After you've got a good amount, you will then filter it through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl.  This will take out any small seeds, large seeds, and a lot of the pulp.

*Helpful hint:  do it a few lemons at a time each day so as to not completely overwhelm yourself.

Or you can choose -

The easy way...
I'll admit this is definitely this best (and fastest) way to do this, though it does require a juicer.

Take your lemons and cut them into chunks (as pictured above.  Then, using your juicer, toss them in and let the juicer do the work!  It's really that simple!

After I juiced them though, I found that the juice (because it also contains the peel) is pretty pulpy.  To combat this, I poured the juice through the fine mesh strainer and let it sit to filter (though I occasionally had to stir it up with a spoon).

When it would no longer filter, I was left with a lovely bowl of pulp.  Reserve this to the side because it can be used many ways.  {*psst!* Keep a look out for my recipe on lemon pulp icing coming soon!} 

After all my lemons were juiced and filtered adequately, I was left with about 5 cups of lemon juice.  Talk about lemon overload!

One quick way I found to keep the lemon juice for future needs was to pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze.  Then once the trays were frozen I tossed the lemon cubes in a clearly marked bag (wouldn't want to mix up my lemon cubes with turkey broth, eh?) and put them back in the freezer.

I'll be experimenting with lemons off and on this week and I'll share more recipes soon.  You'd be surprised at the creative ways you can use lemon juice when you have an overabundance of it.  If you're in a rush to figure out something quick, check this list of 20 Lemon Dessert Recipes!

Check back soon for the recipe to one of my favorites desserts: lemon bars! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

bean and chicken tacos

I had a fantastic run after work last night and came home to the big decision we all face... what to make for dinner?  I usually go through my routine refrigerator, then freezer, then pantry check.  Yesterday, after completing at least two cycles of this check I decided on bean and chicken tacos.  I had everything on hand plus a ripe avocado to give me inspiration so I thought I'd share.

This is a quick, healthy, and super tasty meal!

What you need...
Frying pan (I prefer one with deep sides and a lid)

1 can pinto beans
2 to 4 oz chicken  
1/2 tsp green garlic* or regular garlic
1/4 to 1/2 tsp Seasoning Salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp Mrs. Dash (or comparable garlic seasoning)
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Whole wheat flour tortillas

*The green garlic was something I had on hand and isn't necessary to the recipe.

Spray the bottom of your pan with cooking spray
Turn on the burner to medium low heat

Cut up the chicken into cubes
Toss into the warm pan
Cook until slightly brown and the chicken is no longer pink inside

Add in the beans with the cooked chicken and increase the heat just a bit.

Also add in your seasonings, stir it up, and add a lid (if your pan comes with one).

Let the beans heat up and allow it to simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Heat up your tortillas (either on the stove in a slightly oiled frying pan) or in the micro for about 30 seconds.  Top with your favorite toppings and you're ready to go!

Ideas for toppings...
*Sour cream
*Cooked onions and green peppers

I love this recipe especially because it is so quick and easy but also its healthy!  It's low in sugar, cholesterol, saturated fat, but it's also high in fiber!
This is a great way to save money and make your meat last longer.  I only ate 1 oz of chicken (half of what was in my pan) but the beans really helped to make the meal full and satisfying!

*Note:  These nutrition facts are based on 1oz of chicken per serving and excludes any toppings you may add.  But, just so you know, salsa is only 15 calories for 2 tbsp!!  Yum!

Here are some flowers for your table :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

whole wheat, bran, and pecan waffles

Ever since I was a little girl, I would wake up most Saturday mornings with a craving for pancakes, waffles, or french toast. When I was younger, I could usually persuade Mom to whip up a batch of them but, as I got older, the tables turned and soon it was my job to make Saturday breakfast if I wanted it.

This last Saturday morning I woke up with one word on my mind: waffles.  So, with my craving pushing me, I whipped up a batch of my favorite whole wheat waffles with a twist.  I'd love to share my recipe with you for a delicious waffle that will fill you up with yummy goodness!

What you need...
a waffle iron
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp wheat germ
2 tbsp bran flakes
1 3/4 to 2 cups milk (I use non-fat)
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
A few "gratings" of nutmeg (a dash)

*or any other nut you'd prefer

Plug in your waffle iron.
Combine your dry ingredients in a bowl and prep your wet.  Once you're ready to go, pour in the wet to the dry and combine with a whisk (or a spoon if you don't have one).  If your batter feels stiff, add more milk to thin it out to your desired consistency.

*Here is where you would add in your chips or fruit if you choose to.

Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup, scoop batter into the hot waffle iron (you can coat with a non-stick spray if your waffles tend to stick).
Baking usually takes between 3-5 minutes but this completely depends on your waffle iron.  One handy tip Mom told me was to watch the steam coming from the iron.  When you can no longer see it, it's time to check the waffle.

Top with your favorite toppings and ENJOY!

My topping suggestions...
*Butter & Syrup (obviously)
*Fresh Fruit & Whipped cream 
*Honey or Agave
*Peanut Butter or Almond Butter with syrup
*Eggs & Bacon (more like a waffle sandwich)

*Use chocolate, butterscotch, or white chocolate chips to jazz up these waffles
*Use fresh (or frozen) blueberries or other berries you enjoy in the badder while cooking!

HELPFUL HINT: Take your leftover waffles (if you have any) and put them in a plastic bag with wax paper in between, then place them in the freezer.  It's like having your own 'eggo waffles' but they are better tasting and better for you!  When you want to eat them, pull them out, toast, and enjoy!