Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lemon-Lavender Shortbread

Spring weather is such a joy.  (Aside from the weather-induced allergies, that is.)  Once it starts to warm up, I always start thinking about fresher ingredients, get togethers with family and friends, and the joyously inevitable baby and bridal showers.  In the spring and summer, I like to plan menus with smaller portions and lighter fare.  Often, a compilation of hors d'oeuvres and finger foods is just the ticket

The lemon flavor in this shortbread is subtle and the lavender isn't overpowering, as it can so often be.  The cornstarch gives them a slightly crispy crumb and the sugar on top lends the perfect amount of sweetness.  They'd be perfect for a ladies' lunch, bridal shower, or an afternoon spent all fresco with iced tea, wine, or champagne.  Hooray spring!

Lemon-Lavendar Shortbread
adapted from Gale Gand

8 TBSP (1 stick) cool unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 c. plus 4 tsp. vanilla sugar (plain will work, too)
zest of one lemon
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
2 TBSP dried or fresh lavender flowers, plus more for garnish

1.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until soft. Add 1/4 c. sugar and lemon zest and mix until incorporated. 

3.  Stir together the flour, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix at low speed just until the ingredients are almost incorporated.  Add the lavender and mix until the dough starts to come together. 

4.  Flour a work surface, turn the dough onto it, and knead it 5 to 10 times, to bring the dough together and smooth it out.

5.  Reflour the work surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a little less than 1/4-inch thick to fit an 8 by 8-inch square baking pan lined with parchment. To transfer to the pan, roll the dough up onto the rolling pin, lift it up, and unroll into the pan. Alternately, press the dough thoroughly into the pan with your fingers.  

6.  Using a pique-vite (dough docker) or a fork, prick the shortbread all over to prevent any buckling or shrinking. Sprinkle the surface evenly with 2 tsp. of the remaining sugar.

7.  Bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, deflate the dough by knocking the pan once against the oven rack then rotate the pan to ensure even cooking and a flat surface. 

8.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes more, until golden all over and very lightly browned. As soon as it comes out of the oven, sprinkle the surface evenly with the remaining 2 tsp. of sugar. Let cool about 5 minutes. 

9.  Using a very sharp knife, cut into 3 rows by 5 rows making about 1 1/2-inch by 3-inch bars. Let cool completely in the pan. Remove from the pan and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lightened Waldorf Salad

I love, love, love Waldorf salad.  I don't love, love, love lots of calories.  (I'd rather save them for dessert!)  Lucky for me, Body + Soul magazine revisited the famed Waldorf salad to lighten it up and turn it into a perfect light lunch or completely satisfying dinner.  Just in time to start focusing on toning up for summer!

Lightened Waldorf Salad
adapted from Body + Soul, May 2010

3/4 c. low-fat buttermilk
1/4 c. low-fat mayonnaise
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 TBSP minced chives
1 TBSP chopped parsley
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
 4 c. bibb or romaine lettuce
1 apple, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1/3 c. dried unsweetened cranberries
2 small or one large boneless, skinless chicken breast, grilled and sliced
1/4 c. walnuts, toasted and chopped

1.  To make dressing, whisk first six ingredients (through salt and pepper) together in a bowl. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

2.  Combine remaining ingredients together and add just enough dressing to lightly coat.  Serves two.

one year ago: cilantro coconut rice
two years ago: chicken with lemon and oregano

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lemon-Raspberry Scones

Since I started this blog over two years ago (!), I've been fortunate enough to "meet" so many other bloggers.  From time to time, one of my blogging friends will make a call for someone to do a guest post.  Carrie, of Carrie's Sweet Life, did just that.  She hasn't been able to spend as much time in the kitchen as she'd like now that she is a new mommy to a precious little girl.  I'd be willing to guess she's okay with the trade off.

I answered her call for guest bloggers with these springy lemon-raspberry scones.  They came together easily and made a fresh, tasty, and beautiful hostess gift.  If you'd like to try them, go on over to my post on Carrie's blog to get the recipe!

one year ago: fresh strawberry ice cream
two years ago: chicken with lemon and oregano and heavenly lemon angel food cake

Sunday, April 4, 2010

31 While 31--White Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries

So it has been two months since my thirtieth birthday,  That means it has been two months since I posted my list of 30 Things to Make While I'm 30.  While I've enjoyed the three things I've made from the list so far, I know I'm behind.  If I pace myself at making three items per month (allowing for extra time during holiday months), I'm definitely behind.  

I'm not going to beat myself up too much, though.  I know that, as a teacher, I can make up for some lost time during my summer break.  I also know that special occasions call for special desserts.  Luckily, I had chocolate mousse on my list.  

Classic chocolate mousse seemed too heavy for a springy Easter brunch, so I brightened it up a bit by using white chocolate instead.  The light strawberry sauce was a perfect contrast to the richness of the mousse.  Even after an absolutely HUGE Easter meal, my family had no problem making room for this dessert!

White Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries

2 c. strawberries, stems removed
1/4 c. sugar
1 TBSP kirsch or framboise
6 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c. milk, warmed
1 c. heavy cream
2 egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract 

1.  In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine 1 1/2 c. of the strawberries with the sugar. Puree until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the kirsch and stir to mix. Cut the remaining 1/2 c. strawberries lengthwise into thin slices and stir into the puree. Set aside.

2.  Place the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over but not touching gently simmering water in a saucepan. Heat the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until it is melted and smooth and registers 140°F on an instant-read thermometer. Gradually add the warm milk to the chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan of water and let the mixture cool until it is almost at room temperature.

3.  In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream on high speed just until soft peaks form. 

4.  In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff peaks form. 

5.  Using a rubber spatula, fold half of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold the remaining whites, the whipped cream and vanilla into the chocolate mixture just until combined and no white drifts remain. Do not overmix. (At this point, you may cover and refrigerate the mousse for up to one day.  I did and it worked beautifully.)

6.  To serve, spoon about half of the mousse into six martini, stemless wine, or parfait glasses, half filling each glass. Top with the strawberry sauce, again using about half and dividing it equally. Repeat with the remaining mousse and strawberry sauce.  Serves 6.

one year ago: a great healthy Mexican side dish, calabacitas

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roasted Asparagus and Shrimp Chowder

The warmer weather is rolling in, the flowers are blooming, the trees are turning green, and--best of all--the farmers' markets and grocery stores are filing up with more and more fresh produce options.  Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the apples, pears, and squash that are prevalent throughout fall and winter.  It's just that, by the time spring rolls around, I'm more than ready for something different.

This chowder showcased spring's first asparagus beautifully.  It was hearty, but not heavy.  It had a sweetness, but it was cut perfectly by the herbes de Provence.  I happily ate this chowder with a glass of white wine and a couple slices of whole wheat baguette.  Hooray spring!

asparagus shrimp chowder

Roasted Asparagus and Shrimp Chowder 

10 large asparagus spears, tough ends removed (I used more)
20 large shrimp (about 1 lb. total), peeled and deveined
2 tsp. olive oil
1 small fennel bulb
1 leek, including 2 inches of green, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
3 c. vegetable broth
1 russet potato, unpeeled, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 c. fat-free evaporated skimmed milk
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 

1.  Preheat an oven to 425°F.  Place the asparagus and the shrimp on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat them with the oil and then spread out in a single layer.

2.  Roast until the shrimp turn pink and opaque, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Turn the asparagus over and continue to roast until just tender, about 8 minutes more. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch lengths.

3.  Meanwhile, cut off the stems, feathery tops and any bruised outer stalks from the fennel bulb. Reserve the tops. Cut away and discard the core, then chop the bulb; set aside.

4.  Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Coat the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the fennel, leek, red pepper and herbes de Provence and sauté until the vegetables are just beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. 
5.  Add the stock and potato and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the fennel is tender, about 15 minutes.

6.  Pour in the milk and bring the soup back to a simmer. Add the shrimp and asparagus and stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

7.  Ladle into warmed bowls. Garnish each serving with the reserved fennel tops. Serve hot.  Serves six as an appetizer or four as a main course.