Very Lemony Lemon Bars

Bring a ray of sunshine to your plate with these bright and puckery lemon bars:

Lemon Bars with Sea Salt

‘Tis the season for lemons. Late winter offers up bushels of citrus, which transform into light and lovely desserts, such as these lemon bars. Whether you are knee deep in snow or lucky enough to live where lemons grow on trees, these lemon bars will bring a ray of sunshine to your plate.

The key to a good lemon bar, in my book, is that the filling must be intensely lemony, packing a wallop of tartness with just enough sugar, but not so sweet that it’s cloying. Picture a zingy, sweet and tart filling rippled with lemon zest, anchored to a buttery shortbread crust. The final touch is a smidge of sea salt, which keeps the sweetness in check and allows the pucker-y lemon to shine through. These bars are thoroughly addictive and guaranteed to brighten your day. One bar will never be enough.

Lemon Bars with Sea Salt

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Makes 32 (2-inch) square bars

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut into cubes

Filling:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Garnish:
Confectioners sugar
Sea salt flakes, such as Maldon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, then line the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Combine the shortbread ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until the dough resembles coarse lumps and just begins to come together. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and, with your fingers, evenly press the dough to cover the bottom of the pan.
3. Bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, but do not turn off the oven heat.
4. Whisk the filling ingredients together in a large bowl until blended, then evenly pour over the crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set but not coloring, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.
5. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving.

30 minute Baked Pasta with Chorizo, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Easy one pot pasta dinner in 30 minutes

Who doesn’t like a steaming creamy mac ‘n cheese, coated in bechamel, rippling with cheese and crowned with crispy breadcrumbs? I would never throw shade at this comforting classic – and goodness knows we can all do with a little comfort these days – but I will say that you can have your baked pasta and cheese, and riff a little, too. What you get out of the deal is variety, an excuse to use up any lingering vegetables in your fridge, and an opportunity to add some extra goodies, like sausage if you’re so inclined. Simply mound them into a baking dish along with the al dente pasta and gads of cheese, bake until melty and golden,  and no one, I dare say, will dream of objecting.

I make dishes like this when I am looking for a quick solution for an easy dinner. It can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it’s likely to be devoured in half that time. It’s lighter than mac ‘n cheese, and loaded with veggies. To moisten the pasta (there’s no bechamel sauce, after all) I toss the pasta with some of the pasta cooking water and add fresh mozzarella for creaminess.

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 4

12 ounces pasta, such as gemelli or farfalle
Salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces chorizo or hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 bunch lacinato kale leaves, tough ribs discarded, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or part Parmesan)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until 1 to 2 minutes short of al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup water, then drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil to prevent sticking.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown the slices on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel and pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the skillet.
3. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and sauté until they release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and sauté until the leaves soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved water and stir to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pasta is moist but not wet. Stir in the mozzarella and 1 cup Pecorino.
4. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino over the top of the pasta and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the top begins to color and the cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Homemade Crispy Salmon Fish Cakes

Homemade smoky salmon fish cakes

Calling these “fish cakes” really doesn’t do these crispy succulent patties justice. The “fish” part is right, but “cake” infers flour, fat, and eggs with a bread-like crumb. These Salmon Fish Cakes have none of that.

When my family and I lived in Denmark, a favorite family outing was to our local harbor where the fish market sold fish cakes or fiskefrikadeller, created from the daily catches hauled in on the fishing boats. When the fish were fileted, all the extra pieces were reserved for fist sized fish patties sold by the bagful with containers of remoulade, or tartar sauce, meant to be devoured family-style at the picnic tables perched over the sea. Every harbor with a fish market sold fish cakes, and the recipes were similar, made with white fish, such as plaice or cod, simply spiced and bound together with flour and egg, then pan or, more often, deep fried. Their flavor was mild, thanks to the white fish and simple seasonings, and they were very easy to eat, best washed down with a cold Danish beer (or juice for the kids) in the summer sun.

While nothing could beat fresh fiskefrikadeller at the seashore during the summer, at home I would make my own fish cakes with the goal to create a more healthy and tasty family dinner. I wanted something lighter and brighter, with more fish flavor and less filler. After many renditions, I arrived at this recipe, which I now use as a template. While I vary the fish at times, depending on what’s fresh and available, the amounts remain constant, as does the inclusion of some, if not all, salmon to the mix. I find that salmon’s thick and buttery flesh yields a rich, tasty, and sturdy fish cake, and for deeper flavor I’ll often add cold smoked salmon, which adds a salty, smoky (and addictive) edge to the cakes. Fresh herbs, lemon, and chopped chiles balance out the richness of the fish, while the binder is kept to a minimum – just a dollop of Greek yogurt and Panko breadcrumbs, which do double duty as a crisp coating for the patties. The results are fresh, vibrant, and flavorful, and prove that you that can, indeed, take the cake out of the fish cake.

Salmon Fish Cakes with Lemon-Chile Yogurt Sauce

The fish cakes may be formed up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerated until pan frying. If desired, more salmon may be substituted for the halibut for a 100 percent salmon fish cake.

Makes  about 16 (2-inch) cakes

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Fish cakes:
1 pound salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ounces thick white fish filet, such as halibut or cod, skin and pin bones removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
6 ounces cold smoked salmon filet, skin and pin bones removed, coarsely chopped
1 small red jalapeno or fresno chile, stemmed and seeded, minced
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs, plus 1 1/2 cups for rolling
1/4 cup coarsely grated yellow onion, with juices
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley and/or cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauce:
1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Canola or grapeseed oil for pan frying
Lemon wedges

1. Combine the salmon, white fish, and smoked salmon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 3 to 4 times to finely chop without over processing – the consistency should be slightly chunky and not mushy. Transfer the fish to a large bowl. Add the 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, the onion, parsley, yogurt, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.

2. Pour the remaining 1 1/2 cup breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl. Using a soup spoon, scoop out a generous amount of the salmon mixture. With a light hand, carefully form the mixture into a plump two-inch patty. Gently roll the patty in the breadcrumbs to evenly coat and place on platter, lightly pressing the patty to slightly flatten into about a 1/2 inch-thick cake. Repeat with the remaining fish, adding more breadcrumbs to the bowl as needed. Loosely cover the platter with plastic and refrigerate the fish cakes for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

3. Whisk the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until use.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. In batches, carefully add the fish cakes to the pan without overcrowding. Fry the cakes until golden brown and cooked through, turning once with a spatula, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cakes to a plate lined with a paper towel and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining fish cakes. Transfer the cakes to a warm serving platter and garnish with the parsley or cilantro. Serve with lemon wedges and the yogurt sauce.

Valentine’s Chocolate


Flourless Chile Chocolate Cake

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of dark chocolate, and my friends know it. So when I was recently gifted a box of Swiss chocolate from a longtime friend visiting from Geneva, I did the natural thing: I hid it. I could say it was under the guise of recipe research, but who would I be kidding?

My preferred chocolate is very dark with little bling. However, with that said, I do from time to time like to mess with my chocolate. My favorite embellishments are almonds, sea salt and chili. None of these additions detract from the richness of the chocolate, nor do they add any cloying sweetness. Rather they seem to amplify the deep chocolate flavor, while tickling the taste buds and hitting a few always-welcome umami notes.

bark balslev

Aztec Chocolate Bark

So for a little Valentines Day present, I have for you not one but two recipes with a version of spiced up chocolate. After all, there’s nothing wrong with spicing anything up around Valentine’s Day. The first recipe is for Aztec Chocolate Bark which you can find in a column I wrote for The Weiser Kitchen on Swiss chocolate (of course). And since love and chocolate go hand in hand with abundance (or at least they should), I will share with you below this recipe for Chile Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Flourless Chile-Chocolate Cake
Serves 10 to 12

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 6 pieces
12 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, finely chopped
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Powder sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water, stirring occasionally. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate, vanilla, chili powder, cinnamon, salt and cayenne. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared springform. Bake until the cake is set and the top begins to crack, about 40 minutes. (The center will still be moist.) Cool completely on a rack. Remove the side of the pan and transfer to a serving plate. (Cake may be made up to one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve sprinkled with powder sugar before serving.

Sizzling Fourth of July Grill Menu

We are wilting under the shroud of a spectacular heat wave here in the Bay area. Stifled by the temperature, nothing is moving – even the leaves are too warm to rustle. It’s so hot right now, it’s impossible to cook. In fact it’s so hot right now, it’s impossible to even write about cooking. So, let me treat you to a photo round up of a sensational summer grill menu in preparation for the fourth of July. Keep cool.

Blackberry Spritzer tfBlackberry Spritzer and Mojitos

gazpachBeat the Heat Chunky Gazpacho

fattoush salad tastefoodFattoush Salad

ribsSummer Solstice BBQ Baby Back Ribs

marinated chicken skewers tfGrilled Chicken Skewers with Sriracha Marinade

quinoa kale slaw tfRed Quinoa and Kale Slaw

apricot bruleeCaramelized Apricots on the Grill with Yogurt and Honey

Autumn Apple Tarte Tatin

I can’t believe it’s nearly October, and I haven’t posted a tarte tatin recipe. If you follow this blog, you well know that I love tarte tatins, the upside down-versions of fruit tarts – oodles of caramel required. In the late summer I make tarte tatins with stone fruit, practicing, anticipating the impending fall season with apples and pears. Apple Tarte Tatin is the quintessential version of this inverted squidgy pastry, named, as legend has it, for the French Tatin sisters who forgot to begin with the pastry when assembling their tart. No worries: they slapped it on top and improvised, as all good home cooks do. The result was an upside-down tart with caramelized fruit, poached in a puddle of butter and sugar. Now do you see why I love it?

Apple Tarte Tatin

Serve this rustic dessert garnished with a spoonful of very lightly sweetened whipped cream spiked with a splash of Calvados or Pear Brandy. Serves 8 to 10.

For the Sour Cream Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream

Apple Filling:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut in 4 pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
1 egg, beaten to blend, for glaze

Prepare Pastry:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse once or twice to blend. Add butter and pulse until butter is the size of peas. Add sour cream and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball, flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Pastry may be made one day ahead; refrigerate until use. Pastry dough may also be frozen up to one month in freezer before rolling. Allow to defrost in refrigerator overnight.) Remove pastry from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out.

Prepare Tart:
Arrange butter in the bottom of large oven-proof skillet with sloping sides (preferably cast iron). Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar evenly over butter and pan. Cook over medium heat until butter melts, the sugar is partially dissolved, and the mixture is bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Arrange apples closely together, core-side up, in a circular pattern in the skillet. If necessary, cut remaining apples in quarters to fill in the spaces. Sprinkle apples with 2 tablespoons sugar. Set skillet over medium-high heat. Boil until a thick amber coloured syrup forms, turning the skillet to ensure even cooking, about 25 to 30 minutes.
While the apples are cooking on the stove, heat oven to 425 F. Roll out pastry on parchment paper to a round shape to fit size of skillet. Return the dough and parchment to refrigerator until apples are caramelized. When ready, remove skillet from heat. Working quickly, lay pastry over apple mixture and peel away the parchment (the heat from the apples will begin to melt the pastry). Cut 3-4 slits in pastry. Brush pastry with some of the egg glaze.

Bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown and firm when tapped, about 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and cool on rack one minute. Gently loosen the edge of the pastry around the skillet with a thin spatula. Place a serving platter over the skillet. Quickly invert the tart onto the platter, using oven mitts. If any of the apples or caramel remain in the pan, scrape it out and arrange over the tart. Cool tart slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

If you like this, you might enjoy these recipes:
Apple Cranberry Crisp from TasteFood
Apple Honey Challah from Smitten Kitchen
Pear Clafoutis from TasteFood
Spiced Pear Muffins from the Kitchn

Ring in the New Year with these Party Appetizer and Menu Ideas

The New Year is approaching, and the holiday festivities continue. During this busy time it’s fun and easy to get caught up in socializing, so it’s important to have a few tricks up our sleeve for entertaining, drop-in visitors or an impromptu get-together. Let this blog do some of the work for you. Here are a few menu ideas for holiday bites and appetizers to have on hand or to serve for a party. Meanwhile, savor the moment and enjoy some family time, take a walk in the forest or open that new book  you got from Santa.  Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!