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Asparagus with Bacon, Shallots and Pine Nuts

What a great side dish for the holidays. Fast, delicious and so addictive. Use bacon, use pancetta, use a different nut. Drizzle with a little meyer lemon olive oil if you have it on hand. You can’t mess this one up.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 ounces bacon or pancetta, cut into 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 2 inch pieces on the bias
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large non-stick pan, sauté bacon or pancetta, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan. Add asparagus pieces and shallot and sauté until asparagus is tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.

Add garlic, lemon and orange zest and toasted pine nuts and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and salt and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Lemon Yogurt Cake with Blueberries

Lemon and blueberries are a beautiful combination not only in color, but flavor. This lemon cake inspired by The Barefoot Contessa is perfect for breakfast, a middle of the day snack or after dinner sweet fix.

I won’t say it’s guilt-free, but for a cake it’s healthier than most. It’s not overly sweet and the yogurt makes the cake super moist. If you want the blueberries laced throughout the entire cake, toss them with a tablespoon of flour (to keep them from sinking) and fold in gently.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle blueberries on top of the batter. Bake for about 50 – 60 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

Lemon Bars

LOVE lemon bars… and this recipe from The Barefoot Contessa is fail proof. The shortbread crust is flaky and buttery and comes together quickly. The lemon filling is a perfect balance of sweet and tart and oh so creamy.

There are a few tricks to this recipe that will help you make it successful. First, the eggs: must be extra large and room temperature. If you are making this last minute, throw your eggs in a bowl of lukewarm water for 5 minutes and you will have room temp eggs. Second, give the flour time to do is job: after you whisk the filling together let it sit for 10-15 minutes before adding to the cooled crust.

INGREDIENTS

For the crust:

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Let the filling sit for 10-15 minutes. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Seared Tuna with Gremolata and Cannellini Beans

Simple, no fuss food can be a little fancy too. The brightness of the gremolata is a perfect accent for tuna. This was a quick weeknight meal to throw together but would be quite a showstopper for special company.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 x 1/2 pound tuna steaks (about 1/2 -3/4 inch thick)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried chili flakes
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped flat leaves parsley
  • 2 tablespoon of capers in brine (drained and finely chopped)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the bean salad:

  • 1 red bell pepper – seeded and quartered
  • 1 can Cannellini beans – rinsed and drained
  • 3 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

For the bean salad – combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix. Toss with beans. Set aside at room temperature.

Preheat a griddle pan until smoking hot then reduce the heat to medium-high.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the oil with the water until thick and creamy. Whisk in the lemon juice with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Stir in the garlic, capers, chillies and parsley.

Lightly brush the tuna steaks and bell peppers with the spicy dressing and cook on the preheated griddle pan for 2 minutes on each side (for medium rare tuna).

To serve, fill the grilled peppers with the bean salad. Place the tuna on the place and drizzle over the gremolata dressing.

Lemon Chess Pie

On a recent trip home to Arkansas I had the pleasure of leafing through a recipe collection from Pat Lacy. Pat is the late grandmother of my beautiful friend Lacy. I had a bite of her Green Bean Casserole and knew I had to look through that little book of handwritten recipes for more old Southern jewels. Folks, I don’t even like Green Bean Casserole… I had seconds.

I came across several great recipes including this one for Lemon Chess Pie. Chess Pies are a Southern specialty of eggs, butter & sugar. When cooked the inside resembles a creamy lemon curd and the top becomes a beautiful golden brown.

Surprisingly, I didn’t have a lot of Chess Pie growing up in the South. My mom always made Chess Squares which are actually NOTHING like Chess Pie (but yummy). This is a very rich pie… so plan on sharing.

Since I shouldn’t eat an entire Chess Pie (no one should or COULD really) I made 3 small ones. The recipe makes 1 regular pie and the cranberries were just a holiday addition.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pie crust
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare a pie plate with a homemade or store bought crust. Set aside.

Combine sugar, flour, cornmeal & salt in a bowl. Add melted butter, lemon juice & milk. Mix well. Add eggs one at a time until just mixed. Pour in pie shell. If adding cranberries – drop a few fresh cranberries on the top.

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

 

Spotlight Montréal: Café Soufflé (Lemon Curd Bars with Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust)

Café Soufflé

location: 100 Marie-Anne W. (corner St-Urbain), Montréal, QC

I was lucky enough to find the perfect room at Urban Haven in Montréal. My generous hostess, Carolyn, turned me on to the lovely coffee shop with homebaked treats just steps from her front door. I happily let Café Soufflé become my afternoon treat & café au lait stop while I caught up on email.

Café Soufflé is the home to Marie-Josée and Brigitte Anne and their very creative baking. Sinful brownies, fabulous tarts & muffins (poppyseed pear and strawberry white chocolate…not your everyday boring muffin). I was most impressed by the best homemade toffee I’ve had the pleasure of letting melt in my mouth (don’t miss the creation with masala chocolate).

On my last visit to the café on the corner there was a beautiful lemon tart sprinkled with nuggets of bright green pistachios… delightful. My inspired version of Lemon Curd Bars with Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust has satisfied my lemon cravings… but the Montréal atmosphere I just can’t recreate.

INGREDIENTS

For the crust:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For the filling:

 

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pats and chilled

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish and line bottom with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.

In a food processor, grind pistachios with graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Blend in butter. Press mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan.

Bake until lightly browned for 8 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

To make the lemon curd, add enough water to a medium saucepan to come about 1-inch up the side and bring to a simmer. Combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth. Measure lemon juice and if needed, add enough cold water to reach 1/3 cup. Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth. When water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next.

Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Cool in pan on rack; then chill at least 1 hour before serving.

Using parchment paper as handles, lift out of pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, wiping knife with a kitchen towel between each cut. To store in refrigerator, cover with plastic wrap.

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