Baking Up Some Sunshine (IPA Lemon Bars)

7 May

It’s been slowly turning into spring around these parts. It’s been raining and cloudy constantly, and the thermometer is barely hovering above 50-60 most days. That, plus wind and no sun means it is not warm.

We even tried to have a cook out and froze our butts off waiting for the food to cook and hurried inside to eat in warmth.

Ahh, Midwest seasons.

I’ve cooled off on baking super often, because Lord knows I don’t need a high volume of desserts in my house. But, I really felt like I needed some sunshine in my life, so I whipped up these bright, sweet and tangy lemon bars.

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I used a recipe that involves beer. I love using alcohol in recipes. Beer is in abundance in our fridge, and I chose to use the only IPA we had lying around. It was probably hoppier than I would have liked. If you are an IPA drinker, choose a beer that is citrusy and balanced and not super aggressively hopped. If you’re not, adding in a balanced, not super flavorful beer will probably still work just fine. Steer clear of anything dark or flavored, though, as this will probably alter the flavor of the classic lemon bar we have going on here. DSC04153

Don’t let this scare you away. I promise it’s not beer-y and really just lends another layer of flavor to the tasty lemon filling.

Speaking of the filling. This recipe has the perfect ratio of crust to filling. I think sometimes lemon bars are all crust or equally crust and filling. This one, my friends, is just the right amount crust. The crust is just a vehicle for the real star of the show.

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Both Brent and my brother declared them the best lemon bars they’ve ever had. Brent said he didn’t even really like lemon bars but loved these. Yay! They really are good.

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I actually own the cookbook the author of this recipe wrote. I have yet to make anything from it, but after making these I’m definitely diving into that sucker this weekend to see what other magic I can make.

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These are really pretty, too. Look at them! So bright and sunny.

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RECIPE: IPA Lemon Bars (16 servings)
Adapted slightly from this recipe.
Crust:

  • 1 c flour
  • 1/3 c powdered sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (cut into chunks)
  • pinch of salt

Method: Either blend all ingredients in a food processor until butter is cut into very small pieces and mixed throughout, or stir dry ingredients together and cut in butter with a pastry cutter, fork, or rubbing it in with your fingers. (I started out using a food processor but it wasn’t working for me for some reason, so ended up blending it all up with my fingers.) Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Press into 8×8 pan and chill 15 min.

Preheat oven to 350

Bake crust for 20-25 min. let cool (at least 15 min – you don’t want a hot crust when you pour in filling)

While crust is cooling, make filling.

Filling: 

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • extra powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Wisk eggs and sugar together until smooth. Wisk in flour and corn starch until combined. Stir in beer and lemon juice until well combined.
Pour filling over cooled crust and bake 20-25 minutes or more until center is set. (I had to bake mine for 30 min). Let cool slightly before putting into fridge. Refrigerate 2-3 hours before cutting.

Enjoy!

For more tips on using beer in cooking or tons more beer and food recipes, check out The Beeroness!

 

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My Week in Cooking

5 May

Wow, I just realized I didn’t post a single blog in April. That’s pathetic. I think it’s because I think I never have anything interesting to post. But now, I’m going to post whatever I feel like. So here’s my promise in digital ink: I’m going to post much more often. About whatever.

Today’s topic: cooking!

You know how people list hobbies or interests and it always sounds really cool and interesting? I always wish I was these people, with their novel writing or guitar playing. But Brent just pointed out to me recently that cooking and baking are my hobbies. I cook every day, so I didn’t really consider this a “hobby,” but it totally is. Because I love it.

When I tell people I cook every day, I usually get a side-eyed glance and a polite response, but I’m sure these people think I’m crazy. I admit, I’m lucky with my job and schedule because it leaves me a lot of time to cook, since I don’t commute and my hours are flexible.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but ever since I graduated college and got married, it really has become part of my life.

In college, I’d whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies or make some tacos, but cooking wasn’t my priority (obviously). I’d boil some pasta and cook up some chicken and call it a home cooked meal. Which, it is, but isn’t exactly gourmet.

As I got more time, I started to cook a lot more for people. My roommates and I would collaborate on a meal every so often, sometimes slaving away over a miniature stove (seriously, who puts in a half-sized oven in an apartment!?) with all the windows open and fans blasting in our 1930s, non-air-conditioned apartment building.

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Hey, it’s me in my college apartment kitchen! Notice the total lack of counter space and that stupid tiny stove in the background. I don’t miss that.

But once I had someone to cook for every day, I really got into it. Sharing the food I make is the best part about making food. I love scouring my magazines and cookbooks for interesting ideas, and my my food pinterest boards are totally full of recipes. I love hearing Brent’s approval as he scarfs down my latest creation. It’s one of th best parts of my day, too.

My meal prep actually begins on Sunday. I sit down with my cookbooks and pinterest and comb through recipes for the week. I ask Brent what he’s craving (which is almost always fish or “meat”) and start making a list.
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(Check out my funky new vegetarian cookbook! I picked it up at a garage sale this weekend, and it’s pretty great.)

I plan out what I want to make each day of the week (except for the weekends), and make my grocery list accordingly. This allows me to have everything I need on hand throughout the week, helping me avoid the last minute grocery store run. Admittedly, though, I still end up going back for something.

This approach to cooking also helps us eat healthy all week. Because I plan for it, we rarely play the “what are we having for dinner” game and cave into pizza or Chinese food delivery.
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The menu this week! I’m particularly excited for the broccoli casserole, which I found in a vintage 1960s copy of a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. There’s cream cheese and bleu cheese involved…yum!

More to come soon! Happy Monday, all.

 

 

 

 

 

My First Spring Break (Mexico!)

29 Mar

Guys! I went to Mexico for a week, and it wasn’t snowing there! I didn’t have to wear a coat or boots or anything! (well, I did wear something…but it was far far less than usual)

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We went to Puerta Vallarta with my parents and brother to a super beautiful resort. This area of Mexico is just gorgeous, with the mountains surrounding a bay, it’s all just so pretty. And we always feel really safe in this part of the country, which is nice because it means we can go exploring a little bit.
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Margaritas, obviously.

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Dad loves mom.

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I’m so short.

This was Brent’s first time in Mexico, and I was excited to share it with him. I’d been to this area twice before, so I really wanted him to see the things I had told him about. Here are the highlights: We went on a cool boat ride to a little “private” beach. Private, because it wasn’t open to the public. You had to buy tickets to go there – so fancy!

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On the boat!

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Mom “found” a starfish! I can’t believe she actually held it.

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The boys paddle boarding

Brent and I took a tour of the city and surrounding areas, something I had done before with my family. It was all of our favorite thing from the trip, so I really wanted to do it again! There is a small walking tour of the downtown area of Puerta Vallarta.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in downtown Puerta Vallarta.

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The boardwalk is full of statues and art pieces. This piece is the symbol of the city.

There’s a huge “handicraft” market, basically a tourist mecca with basically anything you could ever want made in Mexico. Beautiful ceramics and hand blown glass, blankets, clothing, shoes, vanilla, etc., as well as the little junky trinkets and shot glasses and other mass-marketed things. I wasn’t really in the mood to barter or get ripped off, and neither one of us really needed anything. All I wanted was this super high quality vanilla that we had bought from this market a few years back. I grabbed it, got a decent deal, and we headed over to a really cute little cafe and people watched.

From there, we headed up to the mountains, where we learned a lot about the city and how it came to be a tourist destination. Basically, it all comes down to Elizabeth Taylor’s affair with some movie star…I am not totally sure but the scandal brought attention to the city in the late 1960s and then Nixon came and visited…and boom, on the map.

A really unique part of this tour is that we get to stop at a traditional tequila distillery. It was a 3-generation family business that hand make severything, from cooking the agave in big fire pits, using a donkey to crush it into juice, and distilling it in small batches in copper stills, to developing their own flavored and aged tequilas. Last time I didn’t partake in the free samples…but I sure did this time!

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They have a citrus flavor, almond flavor, and a coffee-vanilla-chocolate flavor. They were so good. like…so good. Brent had to get a picture of me taking my first official shot! (Long story, but I don’t like when people tell me what to do, i.e.: “You HAVE to take a shot.” so I don’t take shots on principle…and I’m stubborn). Anyways. They also have a reposado tequila, or “rested” which means it was in the barrel for less than 8 months. The anejo tequila is rested for at least 18 months, and was smooth and slightly sweet. The family reserve was the best thing ever – smooth, sweet, and smoky, but very pricy. We bought the anejo, which was still expensive…but worth it!

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Obviously there was the beach and ocean, but I’m so fair (and so is Brent) and I get very grumpy when I’m hot. I need shade at all times or I fry. I used spf 50 all week. I still got sun burned.

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But I’ll gladly take that over boots, down jackets, mittens, and having the heat on, all things that happened this week at home. So. Over. It.

I’m happy to be home, though. I missed my kitties!

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Sunday Brunch Day (My newfound love)

3 Mar

Sundays are now officially my favorite day of the week.

I feel like most people don’t like Sundays. They’re like pre-Mondays, right? I used to feel that way. I used to just feel the time crunch bearing down on me…”Monday is coming! Are you ready for 5 strait days of work?” (that was Sunday talking to me.)

But now, it’s my favorite. I work Mon-Sat right now, so Sundays are my only days completely “off” work. They’re lazy. They’re fun. I usually do really mundane things, but it’s entirely enjoyable.

And recently, I’ve been really in to making us a delicious breakfast in the mornings. Our weekday breakfasts are usually just yogurt or a granola bar ( boring) and Sundays give me those extra hours to create something really delicious, most often involving bacon.
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This Sunday I pulled out all the stops. My dear friend Becky joined us for brunch and we had a very lovely time! Brent whipped us up some breakfast cocktails and I made tiny baby donuts. They are an almond donut with a cherry glaze, although the glaze definitely left something to be desired (very powdered-sugary) so I will be tweaking that one. but they’re so adorable.

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I also made an amazing Middle Eastern egg dish called shashuka, which is eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce eaten with pita. I forgot to take pictures because I was too hungry. I’m making that again for sure. I followed Deb’s take on this dish over at Smitten Kitchen, so head over there for that recipe.

Anyways, my point is that I wish every day could be like Sundays. Just taking my time in the morning, enjoying my coffee and whipping up a super tasty breakfast for people. I’ll be waiting all week for this Sunday morning – I’m thinking some breakfast tostadas are in order!

Winter Does Eventually End (Maybe)

25 Feb

The older I get, the more I resent winter.
January, February, and March taunt me with bitter cold. We’re on the cusp of another polar cold snap and I’m just so sick of it. When will it end!?

I’m slogging through the rest of winter one day at a time. Brent was making fun of me because I have all these plans for “after winter.”  Everything I want to do is for spring and summer. That’s where my whole focus is. But you know, at least I have something to look forward to! I have so many plans.

We signed up for a CSA box (community supported agriculture) so a local farm will pack up a box of fresh produce every week from June-Nov. I am so excited for this! Not only do I not have to fight the crowds at the farmers market, I can support my community’s farmers directly and they’re guaranteed money upfront, and I’m guaranteed yummy veggies. If you’re in the Madison area, check out this link and pick a farm!
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Remember those days? The days that were warm and plants grew out of the ground!

I’m also really looking forward to doing THINGS. I feel like winter puts a stop to activities (which isn’t true…) but things are just more fun when done outside. Camping, biking, ice cream, grilling…you know, the works. There’s an outdoor Shakespeare theatre putting on my favorite play ever (Romeo and Juliet) that I’m hoping we can snag tickets to, and concerts on the square which allows us to drink outside in public…who doesn’t want that?!

With our Mexico trip only a couple weeks away, and the weather heating up in March (well, maybe…sometimes it snows in March and April but fingers crossed) I know I don’t have much farther to go. Mexico will be an absolute dream – I’ve stocked up on new swimsuits and sunglasses and plan on totally soaking in all the sunshine I can…under an umbrella of course!
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Hi, Mexico…I’m coming back for you.  I missed you.

So for now, I’m just doing things that make me happy and keep my spirits up. Today I accomplished this by baking up my favorite peanut butter sesame breakfast bars. I used to make these on hung-over Saturday mornings when friends had stayed over. They gave everyone a reason to get up and gave us a bit of a boost. They’re nutty and sweet, and absolutely the easiest. You can whip these up in about 10 minutes and throw them in the oven, and most likely you have everything on hand.

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You can choose to adapt this recipe, especially if you’re out of ingredients. For the cereal part, I use any puffed or small crunchy cereal we happen to have in our pantry. Don’t like peanut butter? Use almond butter. Don’t’ have sesame seeds? throw in the equivalent of another crushed nut. The honey, though, is a must – but you can halve the amount and add in a mashed banana for flavor without that added sugar. These will definitely put a little sunshine in your day.

Find the recipe here.

 

Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies (yoga and food)

6 Feb

After a couple month hiatus, I went back to yoga today. I seriously love yoga. Don’t turn away yet- this isn’t going to be a long diatribe about yoga! I just wanted to talk about healthy living.

I’ve been working really hard since the New Year to have a more healthful life. I’ve been working out about five times a week and have been making conscious, good choices about the food I eat. I sleep amazing and I never get tired during the day anymore, where I used to need a nap around 2pm. But I took a little break from yoga.

Yoga is expensive if you go to a studio like I do, but I need that studio space to focus and be present. Otherwise I’m fending of cats and waiting for videos to load and getting distracted by dirty dishes and emails. So off to the studio I go, usually with a friend in tow.

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Today we went and encountered a new instructor, which was pretty jarring. She had a different approach and style and we were not feelin’ it at all. We missed the calm, focused yoga we used to do with our usual instructor, so we walked out of yoga a bit more tense than we walked in. But this instructor did make a good point. It’s your practice. She said it about 1000 times so it really got hammered into our heads, but I’m trying to use that phrase to help me feel good about our yoga experience by choosing to feel good about it. Healthy living is all about a healthy mindset. Letting negativity and grumpiness to edge its way in, that’s how you’ll feel all day, thinking about that experience with a frown. We’ll probably go to this new instructor’s class again, and maybe we’ll enjoy it more next time. But for today, I’m going to choose to feel good about my choice to go to yoga and further my yoga practice and strengthen my body, letting that choice influence the rest of my choices today.

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To continue to nourish my body and keep a healthy mindset, I made these nutrition-packed bars. If you don’t have time to work out today or do something good for yourself, maybe you can make these little treats instead. Fruit and nut bars don’t sound good at all, even to me, but trust me. I have a major sweet tooth that consumes my life; so if I can eat these and feel like I’m eating a treat, I think you will too.

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These are essentially Lara bars. If you’ve never had one, it’s a mix of nuts and dates, with one or two other ingredients to give it a flavor. Today we’re doing a brownie version. People comment often on the high sugar count in these bars, but I don’t feel bad about it since I’m getting fiber and nutrients from the fruit and good healthy fats from the nuts. It’s like yummy trail mix in a tasty bar.

The ingredients are simple: dates, almonds, walnuts, a couple tablespoons of chocolate chips and cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt. But it tastes like a fudgey chocolatey treat.

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You can eat these as an afternoon pick-me-up, after a workout for a bit of energy, or even for dessert. I really love this bar and I hope you do to! They’re gluten and dairy free (make sure to grab dairy-free chips if need be), and infinitely adaptable – there are tons of recipes and ideas online, so if you like this one, go explore and experiment with others.

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Yum!

Fudge Brownie Fruit and Nut Bars 
Serves 6

1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup packed whole dates
3 tablespoons chocolate chips
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
few sprinkles sea salt


Method:  Line a loaf pan with some lightly greased parchment paper. Soak the fruit in a cup of warm water for about 10 min, unless your fruit is very soft.
Add your nuts to your food processor, and process until nuts are very fine, but before they become a paste. Add in the remaining ingredients, processing until mixture comes together into a thick lump (mm…lumps.) This only took me a few minutes, but it could take your processor longer to combine everything.
Spread mixture into prepared pan with a greased rubber spatula, making it as evenly spread as possible. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from pan and cut into 6 bars.
Wrap bars tightly in plastic wrap; will keep at room temperature for a few days, and in the refrigerator for a few weeks. 


Recipe adapted from Leite’s Culinaria

 

 

How Does That Make You Feel? (Let me help you)

23 Jan

I’ve been feeling like a therapist lately.

Recently, I’ve been helping Brent out with a lot of school stuff (grad school is hard), and counseling friends on big life changes and relationship stuff. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, because I tend to take on people’s problems until I think I’ve come up with a good solution. It’s tough, but I do love it.

This isn’t really anything new for me. I’ve always been that person people gravitate to when they have a problem. I’ve been told I’m very empathetic, but being totally empathetic and absorbing other people’s problems can really wear you down. So I think as I’ve gotten older, I’m a bit quicker to tell people how I see it rather than giving a sugar-coated, tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear answer. I’ve also started to only give people advice when they ask for it, which tends to work out a lot better for everyone.

I even thought about going back to school to become a licensed therapist because I do really like trying to help people, trying to figure out why they’re having a problem or what makes them do the things they do or feel the things they’re feeling.  but I don’t think I’m up for years and years more of school. 

This is all coming from reading one of my favorite advice givers. He writes from within a girl-oriented site, and girls come to him for his manly perspective on relationship stuff. It’s awesome. He’s pretty brutal, but almost always poignant and spot-on with his advice – like a real life he’s just not that into you situation. His best post yet is this opinion-stlye piece based on the book “Never Have I Ever: My Life (so far) Without A Date”, a strange memoir from a well meaning twenty-something chronicling her life without a relationship – in painstaking, excruciating detail. Seriously, this chick goes through every guy she’s ever liked (going back to kindergarten), why she liked him, what went wrong, and everything. It’s so crazy. The Head Pro’s advice is priceless – please read the exerps from the book and his response. It’s just advice gold.

 This is the part of the post where I beg for your help. I’d LOVE to start a advicey-type column thing on this blog. Maybe once a week I’d try to answer a couple questions for people, focusing on relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but even friendships and family things, too. And nothing is too far out there. It can be as silly as trying to decipher a confusing text or serious problem that needs a serious answer

 

Please send in your questions, or pass the offer of advice on to anyone you’d think would be interested. I’m serious about this, friendly readers! send them in an email (jenny.gagas@gmail.com)