Thyme Kissed Lemon Squares

 

DSC_1438

My sister Abby used to make lemon squares. As a tween, they were her flourish. She would make them, over and over, for almost any occasion. She pulled out the recipe whenever she needed to impress. She made them for family parties, and for teachers. Sometimes she’d make them just to make them. They were always delicious and always devoured, no matter how set or loose the filling was. Abby developed a habit (which she still has) of not measuring when she baked, which meant the same results were never repeated twice.

Neither she nor I can remember which cookbook she used, but I have a feeling it was found in one of two- either the cheerful, red and white checked Betty Crocker, a binder disguising itself as a cookbook; or the stately, encyclopedic Good Housekeeping with its torn cover and pictorial index filled with unmistakably 80s food photography. There’s a chance too that it came from the recipe box stuffed with family favorites, but I doubt it. No one else in my family made lemon squares. Those were Abby’s alone.

Abby lives in Oakland now. Part of being an adult is the missing. There’s nostalgia for what you had, but also a profound sense of loss for what you could have had. Right now life has us in two very different parts of the country, and we’re not able to visit often. But the relatively recent miracle of the internet means we’re still connected. We Facetime and email and tag each other on Instagram. And food, while still miraculous but much more ancient, can bring us together in other ways.

These lemon squares remind me of Abby’s, but they’re not quite the same. Hers were exactly sweet enough for preteens, with a gooey filling and crumbly bottoms. The filling for these lemon squares is creamy instead, and the sweetness is tempered by a flurry of thyme and the floral notes of grapefruit juice. The crust is essentially a shortbread that’s patted into the  pan and then par-baked. And, unlike Abby, I measure while making my lemon squares. I suggest using weight measurements for the greatest precision, but volume works too. Just as long as you use some form of measurement. Please.

Returning again to the miracle of food, this is where we were and where we are. My sister’s favorite childhood dessert, constructed with my pastry training and the sun-filled ingredients that populate her current home. It’s transportive- keeping us connected even when the distance feels insurmountable.

DSC_1462

Thyme Kissed Lemon Squares

These lemon squares will absorb any powdered sugar you sprinkle onto them. I would advise waiting until the last moment to dust with powdered sugar in a decorative flourish.

makes 24 bars

adapted from The Perfect Finish by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (55 grams) confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon finely minced thyme
2 tablespoons (16 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup grapefruit juice

Confectioner’s sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a large bowl combine the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt. Add the butter in, and toss to distribute and coat in the flour mixture. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter into the flour for about 5 minutes, until the butter is well distributed and the mixture comes together when squeezed. Turn the dough out into a 9 by 13 inch baking pan and pat it down. The dough should make one even layer in the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden and set, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While the shortbread is baking place the sugar into a medium bowl. Rub into the sugar the lemon zest and the chopped thyme until the sugar is fragrant and evenly speckled. Whisk into the sugar the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice. Pour into the sugar mixture, and whisk until smoothly combined. Pour the lemon filling over the baked shortbread crust.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is just set, about 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool, then cut into squares. Top with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

Standard

White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato from “A Modern Way to Cook”

dsc_0778

A week ago I was having a relaxing morning before work. You know the routine. Make yourself breakfast. Eat breakfast while sipping caffeine of choice. Do both while checking on blogs. Accidentally spill caffeine of choice on your computer.

Oops.

That was painful. I hadn’t planned for a new computer, and there were a lot of files on that old computer that weren’t saved anywhere else. And without wanting to inflate my own importance, I would argue that it’s painful for you. Because I had a recipe for you that I only get to share just now. And it’s filled with all sorts of good stuff. Specifically, beans, fennel, lemon, and tomato.

These beans come from Anna Jones‘ new book A Modern Way to Cook. I’m slightly obsessed with Anna Jones’ work. Her first book, A Modern Way to Eat is one of my most used cookbooks, and for good reason. She writes smart recipes that are clever without being precious. It’s hard to flip through the pages of her books without being inspired. She brings a cook’s eye to presentation and plays with form and texture. But she doesn’t forget that food should be delicious and nourishing and it needs to be approachable. That’s a message I appreciate in any cookbook, but especially in a vegetarian cookbook that promotes healthy eating.

Her new book is divided not by meals or seasons, but by time commitment. I found these beans labeled as a 25 minute dinner, and immediately had to make them. I love the sweetness that comes from the fennel and honey, the tang from the lemons and vinegar, and the savory notes from the garlic and spices. It truly comes together in 25 minutes (maybe even faster), which means it’s great for spur of the moment dinner decisions (aka, the only kind I have). And I love that you get something hearty and earthy and rich without any esoteric ingredients, or convoluted technique.

It’s a fantastic dinner. And I can’t wait to cook obsessively through this book.

White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato

adapted from A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones

Serves 4

Anna calls for canned lima beans in her original recipe. I have never seen canned lima beans, and so I made mine with Great Northern beans, which were delicious. Anna suggests accompanying this with a green salad or some flatbread, but Aaron and I devoured it with some runny cheese and crusty sourdough.

1 large fennel bulb
2 tablespoons of olive oil
bunch of green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lemon, quartered and seeds removed
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 fourteen ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
fennel fronds, for serving
olive oil, for serving

Cut off the fronds of the fennel and set aside. Cut the bulb in half and trim it. Peel off any tough or bruised outer layers, then slice the fennel into half inch slices.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil it hot, add the fennel, making sure to spread it out so all the fennel makes contact with the oil. Sautée until it’s browning on one side (between 2-4 minutes) then flip, either with tongs or a spatula to the other side. Sautée again until browning, then add the green onions and garlic. Let cook until fragrant, a couple more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and lemon, then add the honey, vinegar, oregano, fennel seed, chilis, and salt. Stir well and let it all heat together for a minute, then add the beans and 1/2 cup of water. Stir again, and then let the whole thing simmer away until the beans are warmed through, about five minutes.

Serve warm, topped with the leafy bits of the fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.

Standard

Olive Oil Banana Bread with Lemon Glaze

dsc_0738

Banana bread will make a woman do all sorts of dangerous nonsense. It will make her leave bananas out on the countertop until they’re soft and dark and starting to attract fruit flies, then will claim precious freezer storage for the dark and soft bananas. It will make her take home fifteen bunches of bananas that are ripening rapidly for hope of that sweet, sweet taste. Banana bread will seduce with promises of an easy cake, a sweet treat, and leave her trembling and angry when her oven will not turn on. In a fit of desperation this woman may to bake banana bread in her toaster oven, thus jeopardizing her own happy relationship. Banana bread, for all its wholesome image, is a minx.

For a few years now I thought I’d have mastered banana bread. I keep a few bananas in the freezer, already peeled and portioned in delis that I’ve taken from work. I keep no more than a few at a time. I have the recipe that I love at my fingertips, a recipe that utilizes nutritious ingredients that I always keep on hand. We’ve come to an understanding, banana bread and I. I make it during baking season as often as is reasonable and it leaves my relationship alone. And then I decide to share this recipe with you. I woke up an hour earlier before brunch to try to photograph it. I need two more sessions, a set of recently purchased antique napkins, and moving all of the living room furniture out of the room to take a palatable photograph. I denied Aaron banana bread for two days. Banana bread brings out something wild in me.

For all my complaints, this banana bread is worth it. With the combination of olive oil, yogurt, bananas, and eggs it’s intensely moist, even after a long spell in the oven. The dark brown sugar is sophisticated, and the whole wheat flour brings out a beautiful nuttiness. I know there are plenty of people who are hesitant about using whole wheat flour in sweet baking. Yes, it often changes the texture and can be dry. But here you want the whole wheat flour. It has the structure you want to stand up to all those lusciously moist ingredients. And they in turn soften the whole wheat, and you’re left with something lovely. The chocolate is only the clincher.

It’s a supremely elegant banana bread. It’s the sort of banana bread I’d like to offer to guests who come for tea. I have served it as a dessert for informal friends dinners. It’s turns into muffins very nicely, and I bet it could easily make a beautiful layered cake. As long as you treat it well, this banana bread will reward you.

dsc_0747

Olive Oil Banana Bread with Lemon Glaze

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark via 101 Cookbooks

Makes 1 loaf

I used a full cup of chocolate chips for this banana bread, because that meant no chopping and more chocolate. If you’d like a more refined banana bread, chopped chocolate would give delightful flecks throughout the whole thing.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about three large)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (about half of one large lemon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup +2 tablespoons) brown sugar
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add in the chocolate and whisk again. Set aside.

In another bowl whisk together the bananas, eggs, oil, yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to fold the wet into the dry until all the flour is absorbed. Scrape into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake the banana bread for 50 minutes, until the banana bread is fragrant and golden. A toothpick inserted into the banana bread should come out clean. Allow it to cool completely.

Whisk together the sugars and lemon juice until completely smooth for the glaze. Pour over the cooled banana bread. Serve in thick slices.

Standard

Basil Lemon Italian Ice

DSC_0383

Italian ice. Wikipedia keeps telling me that it’s the same as a granita or sorbet, but it’s not. It’s finer than a granita and coarser than a sorbet. It’s a smooth mound of flavored ice crystals that are packed together as tightly as ice cream, with a bright tart taste and a velvety mouthfeel. It’s the thing to eat in the summer when wandering around outside.

Italian ice always makes me think of some strange combination of nostalgia and homesickness. My peak Italian ice consumption is directly liked with zoo visits. Like many other managers of small humans, my parents had a zoo membership for many years to make visiting the zoo a frequent and affordable event. We would always pack our own lunches (see: affordable) but whenever it was hot we would buy frozen treats for snacks. The kids would choose some variety of cartoon shaped popsicles, my dad would get a decadent something with chocolate and nuts, and my mom always chose a stately and demure lemon Italian ice.

What a treat. It was the most refreshing thing I could imagine on a hot day. It was smooth and tart, with just enough sweetness to make the lemon even more pronounced. I started off ordering a strawberry Italian ice once I was old enough to appreciate its charms. Soon enough that strawberry had morphed into a lemon Italian ice. My mom and I would wander around the zoo, both of us scraping at our Italian ices with tiny plastic spoons as we watched peacocks prance about trying to impress peahens. That Italian ice was not as sweet as a Sailor Moon Crescent Moon Wand Popsicle with bubblegum, but it had its own charms.

Like many childhood treats it’s difficult to find as an adult. Italian ice, which was so plentiful in Chicago summers, is uncommon in Minneapolis. The easiest and most efficient solution is to make my own. But when making my own Italian ice, I wanted to add something a bit different. Basil is abundant and cheap from where I stand and so I threw in a large bunch of basil with the lemon juice, lemon, and simple syrup. I loved the green color and the anise-y, herbaceous taste that resulted.

If you’re not feeling basil, this could be an easy template to swap in the classic strawberries. Or you could make an offbeat variation yourself. Tarragon and cherry, perhaps? Lime? Piña colada? There’s still summer enough left for all your Italian ice dreams.

Basil Lemon Italian Ice

adapted from The Chicago Tribune

Makes about 10 scoops

This Italian ice is on the tart side. If you’d like a sweeter Italian ice, you should make and use more simple syrup. Simple syrup is sugar that’s been  dissolved into water. It’s used in many cocktails, a handful of desserts, and some upscale coffee bars to add sweetness to cold presses. It’s easy and cheap to make, and scales up or down well. If you like to mix cocktails or add sugar to iced coffee it may be something you’d like to keep on hand. Just be aware that the more sugar you add, the longer the Italian ice will take to freeze.

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 large or 2 small lemons, quartered and with seeds cut out
1/2 cup basil
4 cups (about 24) ice cubes

First, make the simple syrup. In a small pot combine the sugar and the water. Bring to a simmer, and stir while the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has all melted turn off the heat. Let the simple syrup cool down to room temperature.

In a blender combine 1 cup of simple syrup (you will have a bit left over), the lemon juice, the whole lemon, and the basil. Blend on high until everything is well mixed. Taste, and add more sugar if necessary. What you taste now will be more muted once it’s cold, so if it’s perfectly sweet now you’ll want to add a bit more simple syrup.

Chill, either in the refrigerator or freezer until cold.

Return to the blender and add the ice cubes. Blend until the ice cubes are broken down smoothly and evenly. While doing this I needed to carefully increase the speed at even increments, but you know your blender best and how it works. Transfer to a shallow pan, and pop into the freezer.

Freeze, stirring every hour or so until firm but scoop-able. In my pan in my freezer this took about 3 hours- it will likely vary according to the pan you use and how cold your freezer is. It will be best the first day it’s made. Scoop into small bowls, and eat with abandon.

 

Standard

Sparkling Lavender Lemondade

Lemonade

I didn’t mean to make an on topic recipe. I just wanted a sparkling, floral, slightly sweet, slightly tart drink that I could enjoy as spring finally unfolds. Innocent intentions. And then Beyoncé dropped an opus, and the internet hasn’t stopped talking since. I’d recommend reading this article about Warsan Shire, whose poetry appears throughout the visual album. I definitely know I’ll be ordering her collection when it’s released.

The other big music story of late was Prince’s death. I always liked Prince. He was never the soundtrack to my life, but I grew up after his commercial heyday and I still knew every word to Kiss and 1999. He lived most of his life in Minnesota, and it was surreal and incredible to see how the state reacted to his death. Buildings across Minneapolis were bathed in purple light and there were all night dance parties at First Avenue, the club he made famous. Our local radio station played all Prince for 26 hours. Both restaurants I worked at put their playlists on hold to tune in. It was astonishing to hear the depth of music he had put out, and how good it all was. A lot of articles have been written about him, but this one gave such a good insight into what he was like, and how he ate.

Outside of music news, I’ve just taken a deep dive into What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s an astonishing book, twisting and turning between stories. It’s written by someone in complete confidence of her ability and it’s so.good. Check it out if you like good books, but especially if you like gothic fairy tales.

If you need a drink while reading, or just want something bright and refreshing, may I suggest this sparkling lavender lemonade? It may be a bit early for lemonade, which is generally thought of as a summer drink. But the temperature has been lingering in the 40s and above for the past few weeks, and in Minneapolis if it’s not snowing it’s patio weather. This lemonade is slightly sweet and slightly tart, and is best drunk in some proximity to fresh air.

Happy May, and Happy Tuesday.

Sparkling Lavender Lemonade

I find lavender flowers in the bulk spice section at my local grocery store, but I imagine they could also be found in jarred spices or by teas. If you can’t find lavender flowers, you could easily follow this template of infused syrup, lemon, and sparkling water to make your own type of lemonade. I imagine that a thyme lemonade, in particular, would be fantastic.

Serves 2

6 tablespoons lavender syrup (see recipe below)
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) lemon juice (about 2 small lemons)
2 cups sparkling water

Stir together the syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water. Pour over ice into two glasses. Enjoy near an open window, or even better, outside.

Lavender Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lavender flowers

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Stir in the lavender flowers, and steep for about 2 hours. Strain and cool in the refrigerator.

 

Standard