Lemon Bars

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It’s been a weekend full of excitement here in the Sweet Precision kitchen. I’ve had a special guest visiting me here in DC… my dad! We’ve been busy doing some touristy things around the city and also doing some baking and cooking in my apartment. One of my dad’s favorite desserts are lemon bars, so as a surprise I bought all the ingredients so we could make them together. I’m not that big of a lemon fan myself, but these lemon bars are tasty enough to convert a critic. 

Spring demands lemon bars, but too often these bright yellow and shiny treats have flaws hidden underneath a fine layer of powdered sugar as they sit alluringly in a glass case. Lemon zest is really the key to a truly successful lemon bar and this recipe has a lot of it, so get those lemon zesters ready! In addition, it boasts a strong crust that can hold up to the tangy curd topping. The perfect finishing touch is some vanilla ice cream on the side—it’s the perfect complement to the tartness of the lemon curd.

Lemon Bars Recipe 
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Ingredients
Butter for greasing the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
6 large eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Combine 2 cups of the flour, the powdered sugar, and the salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into the greased pan, pushing the dough all the way up the sides. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes, then remove and reduce the oven temperature to 315°F.

Meanwhile, in another large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Gently stir in the lemon juice and zest. (To minimize aesthetically displeasing little bubbles on the top of the bars, avoid whisking further.) Fold in the remaining 1/2 cup flour.

Pour the egg mixture over the hot crust and bake until the curd is set and no longer jiggles when you move the pan, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting into bars. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
To prevent a soggy crust on your lemon bars, brush the crust with an egg white wash before baking. The egg whites will form a protective barrier between the crust and the lemon curd that you add later. Because egg whites are almost tasteless they will be nearly undetectable in your lemon bar crust when baked.

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Spiced Skillet Bananas with Greek Yogurt

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If you could be someone else for a day, who would you choose to be?

I puzzled over this question for awhile before the obvious answer dawned upon me. As a dancer, I decided I would want to be a young Judith Jamison. If you’re scratching your head wondering who this is, let me explain. Judith Jamison was a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey Dance Theater who later went on to be the artistic director for 20 plus years. She was an absolutely mesmerizing dancer. You can watch clips of her performances and choreography on YouTube and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If I could have one day to be someone, I’d want to have her skills and talent—if only for 24 hours. Speaking of dancing, it’s been much too long since I’ve been to a dance class. Somehow life has been busy and kept me away from the studio (or maybe I’ve been a little lazy too). This week I’ve decided to rectify this problem and I’m going to take a jazz and hip hop class after work one night. I might not be Judith Jamison, but it will feel good to stretch and move like a dancer again.

For my baking adventure this weekend I decided to keep things light. I didn’t feel like baking cookies or cake, and instead opted for a healthy option that you can pull together in seconds. It’s sort of a take on Bananas Foster—except without the rum and banana liqueur. I promise you’ll still enjoy it. I wanted something that I could use to showcase the new dishes I scavenged for at a fun shop called Miss Pixie’s in my neighborhood. Enjoy!

Spiced Skillet Bananas with Greek Yogurt

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon margarine
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 cups sliced bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fat free vanilla Greek yogurt
1/4 cup walnuts (optional)

Directions
In a large nonstick skillet, melt the margarine over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar, stirring until the mixture is bubbly and the sugar is dissolved.

Add the bananas, gently stirring to coat. Cook for 3 minutes, or until just softened and beginning to glaze and turn golden. Don’t overcook, or the bananas will break down. Remove the skillet from the heat. Gently stir in the flavoring.

Spoon the banana mixture over the Greek yogurt. Garnish will walnuts if desired. Serve immediately.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
For another variation on this recipe replace the bananas with thinly sliced peeled apples. Add some apple pie spice and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the apples are just tender.

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Baked Casserole aka “Hot Dish”

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There are two words to describe what’s been going on in the Sweet Precision kitchen over the past week… hot dish. For those of you that aren’t Minnesotan, let me elaborate a little bit. A hot dish is a variety of baked casserole that typically contains a starch, a meat or other protein, canned or frozen vegetables, and canned soup. There’s absolutely nothing fancy about a hot dish casserole. Company won’t be impressed if you serve it to them for dinner, and your family will probably sigh with disappointment if you announce that it’s for dinner…again. I still cringe at the thought of the tater tot hot dish that frequented our school cafeteria menu when I was in college.

With all of this negative publicity, you’re probably wondering why anyone would ever bother baking a hot dish casserole. Let me provide you with a few potential situations. When it’s one of those nights you have no idea what to make from your leftovers—hot dish casserole comes to the rescue. If it’s time to clean out your cupboards and get rid of the canned veggies and soup that have taken up permanent residency—hot dish casserole comes to the rescue. Or maybe you simply want one big dish of something you can eat for the entire week—hot dish casserole comes to the rescue, again. That being said, when I decided it was time to do a little spring cleaning in my cupboards and wanted to make one big dish to eat for lunch the entire week, I knew exactly what I needed to bake. Enjoy the following recipe for a whole wheat pasta hot dish.

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Hot Dish Casserole Recipe
Makes approximately 12 servings 

Ingredients
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
3 cups whole wheat penne pasta, cooked
1 jar (24 ounces) spaghetti sauce
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups corn, canned or frozen
Spices and herbs, as desired

Directions
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Brown meat in large skillet and drain. Add pasta, sauce, cheese, corn, and spices. Spoon into 13×9-inch baking dish. Top with some of the remaining cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Variation and substitution is the key to an award winning hot dish. If you have some frozen veggies in the freezer don’t be afraid to throw them in. If you have spaghetti instead of penne pasta, no one will know you changed the recipe. You can even decide what type of cheese you like best in the recipe. There’s just no way you can go wrong when making a traditional Minnesotan hot dish!

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Cinnamon Rolls

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Something exciting has happened behind the scenes of Sweet Precision that I’ve been remiss in sharing with you. There has been a very important addition to my kitchen within the past month. I finally bit the bullet and bought myself… a Kitchen Aid mixer! And to answer the next most obvious question, the color was candy apple red.

The list of things that I’d been planning to do with my new mixer was endless. One of the first things I decided to tackle was making bread. After suffering through gooey fingers and sticky counter tops when trying to make bread by hand, I was more than ecstatic to put my new mixer and dough hook to the test. My plan was simple—I wanted to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast. When I think about cinnamon rolls my mind imagines soft rolls that have just been taken out of the oven and are fragrant and warm. The finishing touch is the frosting drizzled over the top… simply delicious.

The recipe that I’m sharing with you today promises to deliver all this, and more. The added bonus to these rolls is the delicious cream cheese frosting that gets added after the rolls come out of the oven. It’s a truly decadent breakfast dessert that you will want to make when you have company. Be forewarned though, this is a recipe that takes a bit of time, so make sure you set aside a couple of hours in advance.

Cinnamon Roll Recipe
Adapted from Epicurious
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Dough Ingredients
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (from 2 envelopes yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling Ingredients
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Glaze Ingredients
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add 21/2 cups flour. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball. Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.

Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at 1 long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide). Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up.

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
When you go to the grocery store to buy your yeast, make sure you pay particular attention to what type you are buying. There are two types of dry yeast: Active Dry Yeast and Rapid-Rise Yeast. While there are some minor differences in shape and nutrients between the two, they can for the most part be used interchangeably in a recipe. Active Dry Yeast requires you to activate it in a little bit of warm water before being added to the rest of the ingredients. Rapid-Rise Yeast is a little more potent and can be mixed in with your dry ingredients directly.

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Peanut Butter Fudge

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It seems that musicals are becoming popular again with the success of movies such as Les Miserables and TV shows like Glee. This week I was pondering what my life would be like as a musical. Maybe it would be some type of mash-up between Chicago and Fosse—just without all the murders. But since I don’t have my own musical director or a set production crew, this exercise seemed limited to the afternoon wanderings of my mind. That is until I came up with the idea to create the musical soundtrack to my week by selecting 5 songs that I felt captured the comings and goings of my activities. So without further ado, I present the soundtrack to my week.

1. Monday: At the End of the Day, Les Miserables
2. Tuesday: Mister Cellophane, Chicago
3. Wednesday: Razzle Dazzle, Fosse
4. Thursday: A Spoonful of Sugar, Marry Poppins
5. Friday: I’ll Cover You, RENT

So where does baking fit into this post? Well since I’ve had a whirlwind of activity lately, I selected the easiest recipe that I could come up with for you! It’s only 4 ingredients, and if you’re efficient, the entire thing could be finished in 10 minutes. What on earth could be so simple? Peanut Butter fudge I tell you. I made this recipe when I was staying with Matt for the weekend and hid some of the extra in the freezer (since he has no self control when it comes to peanut butter). But shhhh… don’t tell him it’s there!

Peanut Butter Fudge
Adapted from Alton Brown

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Ingredients
8 ounces unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound powdered sugar

Directions
Combine the butter and peanut butter in a 4-quart microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir and microwave on high for 2 more minutes. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar to the peanut butter mixture and stir to combine with a wooden spoon. The mixture will become hard to stir and lose its sheen. Spread into a buttered 8 by 8-inch pan lined with parchment paper. Fold the excess parchment paper so it covers the surface of the fudge and refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Measuring peanut butter can quickly turn into a gooey mess as you try to scrape everything out of the measuring cup without leaving anything behind. To make this process easier, spray your measuring cup with cooking spray before adding the peanut butter. Then when you’re finished, it should slide out of the cup with no mess at all!

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