Saturday, September 27, 2014

Double-header blog post: lemon bars and popcorn cookies

Where does the time go??

I find that between trying to make the most out of this summer (weekend festivals in Chicago, enjoying the weather when I can) and the madness at work I cannot muster the inspiration to sit down at my computer and write.

Just a random gorgeous sunset view from our apartment
My cooking had lagged too, so that was part of the lack blogging, but even when that picked up a few weeks ago I haven't been sharing much in my space here. Which I hope to rectify a bit. There's been some exciting moments too (my trip out east to Boston, Maine, and New Hampshire for a dear friend's wedding; having my parent's meet the boy's parents for the first time) so I may find a way to sneak those into the blog over time.

I have probably close to 20 back-logged posts, so deciding which one to start with is no easy feat. How about 2 recipes I made a while back from my Smitten Kitchen cookbook: lemon bars and popcorn cookies!

Back in June, for our 2 year anniversary, the boy and I agreed we weren't going to do any gifts. But then, he surprised me with this little gem:


He knows me (and my obsession love of cookbooks) so well! Within days I had made both of these desserts from the book.

Lemon bars were a no brainer, considering my obsession with citrus desserts. And these were extra interesting, because instead of juicing and zesting a million and a half lemons, you simply use 1 lemon. You read that right. One. Single. Lemon.
Make sure you top with powdered sugar RIGHT before serving to make them purty.
I didn't since I was taking these into work...
They also only use 7 ingredients (all pantry staples!) so you're 98% likely to have everything on hand to whip up a batch. All in all, these lemon bars were a smashing success—and loved equally by the boy and my coworkers.

Great ratio of filling:crust!
It wasn't much later that I made recipe #2 from the book, mostly because I was intrigued by the use of popcorn in a cookie. Plus, I got to use one of my absolute favorite items in my kitchen: our Whirley-Pop.


I know, I know, I know—you're not supposed to buy large items that have only 1 purpose in the kitchen. But this thing is magical. It will pop nearly every freaking kernel and not burn a single piece of popcorn. You can go from wanting a late-night snack to eating a giant, perfectly popped bowl of popcorn in ~3 minutes. And it's insanely fun to use. It's literally one of my favorite kitchen gadgets! I mean just check out this perfection.

Yes, allllll this popcorn goes into the batter.
All that popcorn gets folded into the cookie batter. And mini ice cream scoops help you portion out the cookie dough in just a few minutes.


Cookie perfection!


Now I'll be 100% honest—the cookie portion of these cookies was incredible. But I was on the fence about the addition of popcorn. The slight crunch and buttery flavor was unique to a cookie, so while I liked it, I wasn't head-over-heels for it. The boy, on the other hand, wasn't a fan at all with the popcorn. (The first time I think he's every said he didn't like something!) But then coworker asked me for the recipe because she liked them so much. So who knows?!

Recap of today's post: If you're a fan of citrus, the lemon bars are a no brainer. If you're a fan of unique desserts with a bit of savoriness to them (or a fan of the buttered popcorn Jelly Belly), try a batch of these popcorn cookies.

Yours in attempting to catch up on this blog...yet again,
Jacqueline

Whole lemon bars, barely adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The original recipe says this makes 16 squares (2"x2"), but I cut them into bit-sized 1" squares and got 32 pieces out of the batch. Some of their crust crumbled off a bit, but I found that to be the perfect size.

Ingredients

Crust
1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar
1/4 tsp table salt
8 TBSP butter (1 stick), cut into chunks

Filling
1 small/medium lemon (~4.5 oz, 130 g, or ~3" long), thoroughly washed (organic preferred)
1 1/3 cups (265 g) sugar
8 TBSP butter, cut into chunks
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 TBSP (15 g) cornstarch
1/4 tsp table salt

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in middle position. Prepare an 8 inch baking pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper, laid perpendicular to each other (like this). Lightly butter the parchment, or use baking spray with flour (my favorite).

  2. To make the crust: blend the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until mixture is powdery (but will hold its shape when pinched, like damp sand). Add the dough to the prepared baking pan and press evenly across the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides. (Hot tip: a measuring cup or glass can help pressing the crust.) Prick with a fork all over and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. If the crust bubbles up a bit, just prick them with a fork. Remove the crust from the oven and set aside, but leave your oven on. (Hot tip: Don't wash your food processor just yet, you'll use it again in step 4.)

  3. To make your filling: Cut your lemon in half to see how thick the pith of the peel is. (The pith is the white part of the skin, aka the bitter part.) If the pith is 1/4 inch thick or less, continue to step 4 with the entire lemon. If the pith is thick, remove most of it before continuing onto the next step. (To remove the pith, skin the entire lemon and cut away the white part from the yellow peel. Discard the pith but KEEP THE PEEL. You don't need to remove every last bit of the pith, but just enough to reduce the bitterness.) 

  4. Cut your lemon into rings and discard any seeds. Toss the lemon (flesh AND peel) into your food processor, add the sugar, and run until the lemon is pureed, ~2 minutes. Add the butter and again run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt, and pulse until combined.

  5. Pour lemon mixture over the crust and bake for 35 - 40 minutes, or until the filling is set, aka. it jiggles slightly when bumped. (You may find the top of the bars begin to get just a hint of browning at this point.) 

  6. Let the pan cool completely on a rack. Gently pull away the parchment paper, and use the parchment sling to life the bar out of the pan. Cut into squares.
Buttered popcorn cookies, barely adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients
vegetable oil
1/4 cup (45 g) popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp table salt
1 TBSP butter, melted
8 oz (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup (95 g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (65 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (155 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

Directions
  1. Cook popcorn in vegetable oil on the stovetop (or using a Whirley Pop!). Toss with table salt and melted butter, making sure you've removed any unpopped kernels. (~4 to 4.5 cups cooked popcorn.)

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture.

  3. Fold in the cooled popcorn until evenly distributed. It will seem like an insane amount of popcorn, but it'll all come together (I promise). 

  4. Scoop heaping-tablespoon sized rounds of dough onto lined baking sheet, ~2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minute, or until the edges are light brown. Remove from oven, let sit on baking sheet for a few minutes, and transfer to a rack to cool.
 

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