Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lemon Bars

I really like lemon bars.  They are so refreshing and are not heavy at all!  (at least not to me).  The shortbread-like crust with the moist top layer is such a perfect combination.
I can't bet enough lemon bars, but sadly, its quite hard to find!  When have you seen lemon bars sold at a bakery?

I guess I am stuck making them myself!
It just so happened that I had 1.75 lemons leftover in my house from when I was sick with a cold last week and was living off of hot lemon water.  This is the perfect way to use up the extra lemons!

For my lemon bars, I made a small batch (I used a small non-standard baking dish, that is roughly the dimensions of 5"x4") because I am the only one in the house that eats lemon bars!  If you plan on having at least 2 people eat lemon bars, then you should probably double the recipe and use an 8x11 baking pan. 

I prefer my lemon bars extra "lemony", so I used a lot of juice and a lot of zest.
Here were my proportions:
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ~3/4  cups white sugar (I used a big, heaping, 3/4cup (not a flat 3/4cup) to offset all the lemon juice! :))
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1.75 lemons, juiced  (or use 2 small lemons).
    (Did you know:  You can get more juice out of your lemon by microwaving it for 30 seconds, then pressing + rolling the lemon on the countertop using the palm of your hand.))
  • Zest of 1 lemon
    (Please do this properly and use a zester or microplane to zest the lemon.  It pains me to see zesting go wrong)
  • Powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a bowl, blend together softened butter, 1 cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar. Press firmly into your baking pan.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden.  I like my crust extra crispy!
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cups sugar and 1/8 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs, zest, and lemon juice. 
  5. Pour the mixture over the baked crust.
  6. Bake for an additional 30 minutes in the preheated oven. 
  7. Let the lemon bars cool, and it will firm up.  Cut the lemon bars when its completely cooled and sprinkle powdered sugar on top.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kale chips

Enjoy winter veggies while they are still in season! 
Like Kale!
I found some beautiful bunches of kale at thes store for only 99 cents per bunch!  (Another thing I found, is that my piggies absolutely love kale.)

I used to be pretty intimidated by kale because it is such a bitter and coarse vegetable.
I have made kale chips in the past, but it came out way too fibrous, and the mistake that I made, was that I did not remove the stem prior to baking the kale.

This time, I tried kale chips again, and I thought it came out quite delicious.  It tastes crunchy and nutty.
The only problem was, that I salted it too much.
I recommend only lightly salting the kale, and if you need more salt, you can add it later.  You can always add more salt but its really hard to take away the salt!  -_-#

Wash your kale, and shake it as dry as you can (or use a salad spinner).  Remove the leaves from the hard stem and break the leaves into smaller leafy pieces.  Lay the kale in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with olive oil and salt.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
Enjoy as a snack or as a side/appetizer.  =)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chinese Steam Salted Chicken with ginger scallion dip

I'm not sure what the official name of this dish is, maybe I've seen it referred to as "steamed chicken" or "salted chicken" in Chinese restaurants.

You've most likely had it.  It's just a simple steamed chicken that is salted prior to cooking, chopped into chunks before serving, and served with a ginger-scallion-oil dipping sauce (the Cantonese seems to love these types of oil based of dipping sauces)
I don't think people realize how simple this dish is!
I've seen this dish served as an appetizer at Chinese banquet weddings, and on a recent visit to the Chinese restaurant, Jeff was tempted to order the dish at $12 per plate (which is half a chicken.  Whole chicken costs double)!  I suggested that we order something else, and I will make the dish when we get home.

I think $12 for half of a chicken at the restaurant is such a rip off.
You can buy a whole chicken at the store for less than half that price, and there is almost no prep work that goes into making the dish.
You can find chicken at the store for about 99 cents a pound (a whole chicken is around 4 pounds).
You can also use other portions of a chicken if you don't want to use a entire chicken, such as bone-in skin-on chicken breasts, or chicken legs.

1. The prep work:
Rub a thin layer of salt under and over the skin of the chicken, and discard the giblets.
Place a few ginger and green onion slices under the skin of the chicken.

2. Cook the chicken:
Set the chicken in the steamer and when the water boils, steam your whole chicken for about 40-45 minutes.
Use less time if you are only cooking a few pieces of chicken.
When you pierce the chicken meat, the juices should run clear when it's done.

3. Take the chicken out of the steamer and let it cool down for 15 minutes, so its cool enough to handle.

4. Optional step: make the dipping sauce:
Using a hand grater/microplane, grate some ginger into a heat-resistant bowl.  Then add in thinly sliced scallions (about half/half).  Then pour about half a teaspoon of salt on top of the ginger and scallions.  In a pan, heat up some oil then pour the oil on top of your ginger scallion salt pile -- you should hear a sizzling sound.
And there you have it, a very typical Cantonese dipping sauce.

5. When the chicken is cool enough to touch, chop the chicken into pieces.  At Chinese restaurants, they like to use the big heavy cleaver to cut through the bone. I don't agree with this method -- not only is it dangerously unnecessary (I like to keep my fingers, thanks), but chicken bones turns into sharp shards easily.  No, I don't like to eat bone shards.
I simply cut the meat off the bones (similar to carving a turkey), into large chunks, then slice up the meat.

6. Plate up the meat, and serve with the dipping sauce. 
Serve with steam rice.
(Note:  you could also use the leftover steamer water to cook your rice, because it has the flavor of the chicken and salt in the water).
I like to eat the leftover chicken cold (rather than reheating it).  This dish feeds me for several days.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Baked goods for the holidays - Russian tea cakes and good ol chocolate chip cookies

For the holidays, I baked up 2 types of cookies for everyone to enjoy.
Of course, this was just really an excuse to show off my new cake stand.

Around 2 weeks ago, Jeff was telling me how he really enjoyed eating these "round" and "white" cookies.  I really had no idea what he was talking about.
Apparently, these cookies tastes "good" and only appear around the holidays.
It really did not ring a bell.

After a few minutes of Googling, Jeff found that these cookies have a bunch of different names, such as "Russian Tea Cakes", "Pecan Butterballs", "Mexican wedding cakes","Snowballs" and "Pecan Sandies".
I have heard of the last name, but none of the other names that the Google search yielded.
(I'm starting to think that no one really knows the name, so people are just making names up.  Lol.  And, btw, Mexicans do not eat these at weddings. )

After pulling up a promising looking recipe (you can usually tell if a recipe looks pretty good based on the ingredients and the proportions), I decided to make my own attempt at making Russian Tea Cakes.  (recipe at the bottom of the post).

Russian Tea Cakes waiting to go in the oven

The recipe was pretty straight forward and easy, and the result was very buttery, flaky, and shortbread-y.
I really liked it.
The only problem was that I finely chopped the pecans by running it in the blender for a couple of seconds, and that gave me pecan powder rather than chopped pecans.  So next time I make Russian tea cakes, I am chopping them by hand!
I also wish that the powdered sugar (that you sprinkle on after the cookies are done baking) did a better job sticking on.  I love powdered sugar....
After eating the cookie, it confirmed that, NOPE, I never seen or eaten these cookies before.
I have asked a few others about this cookie and there was a mix of answers (some have had the cookie in the past, and some did not know of its existence).

I also made chocolate chip cookies because chocolate chip cookies are my favorite cookie of all time!
You can't go wrong!  And I have not met one person who dislikes chocolate chip cookies.

I actually halved the recipe....
The chocolate chip cookie recipe was also very simple and is your typical choc chip cookie recipe.
My only problem with choc chip cookies is that the cookies spread out during baking and never come out uniform!
I don't know how people can make perfectly shaped cookies every time!!  If you know the secret, please share!  (your secret will be safe with me).



16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus about 1¼ cups for coating the cookies

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

¼ tsp. salt

cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup finely chopped pecans

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy. Add ½ cup of the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and salt. With the beaters on low speed, mix in the flour just until incorporated. Mix in the pecans.
  2. Using your hands, gather the dough into a ball inside the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. (The dough becomes very firm when refrigerated for a longer time, but it will soften after about 1 hour at room temperature.)
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Pinch off small clumps of dough and roll into 1-inch balls, arranging them about 1½ inches apart on the prepared sheet(s). Bake for 11 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden on the bottom and just barely beginning to color on top. (If using 2 cookie sheets, rotate them from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking.) Let the cookies cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes.
  5. Place the remaining 1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar in a shallow bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the sugar to coat. (Be gentle, because the cookies are fragile.) Set them on a rack to cool. Just before serving or storing, recoat the cookies with sugar.


    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
    3/4 cup granulated sugar
    3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 large eggs
    2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. 
  3. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. 
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  5. Gradually beat in flour mixture. 
  6. 6. Stir in chocolate chips. 
  7. (Optional) Place the dough in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.  (To me, this seems to help keep the dough from being runny, the next step easier).
  8. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. 
  9. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.