Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

I can tell spring is here and summer is around the corner, because rhubarb has been all over my Instagram feed.  I’ve had bakery desserts with the red celery-like stalk, but I had never made anything with it myself.  Everyone else is doing it, so why not?  The grocery store had a crazy deal on gorgeous juicy strawberries (2 pounds for $3!) last weekend and the rhubarb looked great, so last weekend was a good a time as any to take the plunge!  It was meant to be.  I also took the opportunity to nibble on a piece of raw rhubarb because I’d only ever had it baked in a dessert.  And boy there is a reason why rhubarb isn’t served raw – my mouth puckers just thinking about the bitter tartness!

Admittedly, I bought far too much rhubarb, and ended up doing some experimenting with the extras.  I made a rhubarb puree and then combined it with a lemon bar.  I think I need to tinker with the recipe some more, because Kevin said it tasted like a Fig Newton.  It was not supposed to taste like a Fig Newton.  Also, let it be known that I am fairly certain they used rhubarb puree for the Psychomagnotheric Slime in Ghostbusters II.  It was bright pink jelly, and I of course forgot to take a photo of it.  Fortunately, no psychokinetic events took place during the making of this puree.

Making Rhubarb Puree (not for this recipe)

But I digress.

Smitten Kitchen’s social media channels have had rhubarb recipes on repeat lately, and the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars in particular caught my eye.  I doubled the recipe for a 9″x13″ baking dish, and used less fruit in proportion to the original recipe.  You can halve the recipe for an 8″x8″ pan, but the bars will be a bit thinner.  But why would you want less of these bars??  The recipe was originally written as a one-bowl recipe, but the OCD in me kicked in and I ended up using a separate mixing bowl so that I could guarantee the crust/crisp would be mixed evenly.  Here is the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 14 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced rhubarb (from about 3 medium stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced strawberries
  • Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal and clean-up, line bottom and two sides of 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper.

    Lets Make Some Magic!
  2. Mix together oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and your kitchen smells amazing.

    Ready for the Oven
  4. Let cool in dish.* Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving with (obviously) a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

    Smells Amazing

*Smitten Kitchen recommends cooling in the fridge to make sure the bars are crisp, but using less fruit than the original recipe I think kept the bars from getting soggy.  I didn’t need to chill mine!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves

The brief cold spell we had last month had me pining for comfort food, and I turned to who better than Smitten Kitchen.  A photo of her Tomato-Glazed Meatloaf and Browned Butter Mashed Potatoes popped up on my Instagram feed, and I pulled up the recipe immediately.  I did make a batch of mashed potatoes to go with this, but I didn’t use the recipe paired with the meatloaves on Smitten Kitchen – it was a bit too rich for me.  I went for a lighter version and used a pastry blender instead of a potato ricer to mash the potatoes.

Aesthetically and practically, I liked that the recipe separated the meatloaf into individual giant meatball-like servings instead of your typical bread-loaf shape making it much more freezer friendly.  I had originally intended to wrap a few up in plastic wrap and freeze for another time, but Kev and I loved them so much we polished them all off in just a few days.

Here’s the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen for just the Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves!  Instead of using sandwich bread, I used panko breadcrumbs.

INGREDIENTS:

GLAZE

  • 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons smooth dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

MEATLOAVES

  • 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 medium stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil, for cooking
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea or table table salt, plus more for vegetables
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds ground beef (I used 1 lb 90% lean ground sirloin, and 1 lb 85% lean ground beef)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan, and simmer, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes until and glaze is satiny smooth. Set aside.

    Make the Glaze
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat 2 9×13-inch baking dishes with nonstick spray, or line with nonstick foil for easy clean-up.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot to a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, coat the bottom with olive oil, and heat the oil for a minute; add the finely chopped vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

    Brown the Pureed Vegetables
  4. Add the vegetables to a large bowl with the panko breadcrumbs, then add the remaining ingredients.
  5. Stir the ingredients together with a fork or your hands until evenly blended.

    Get Your Hands Dirty!
  6. Form the meatloaf mixture into twelve 3-inch meatballs; each will weigh about 4 ounces. Arrange 6 in each prepared baking pan, evenly. Drizzle or brush each meatball with a teaspoon or so of the tomato glaze you made earlier, and bake until cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a cooked meatball will register 160 to 165F).

    All Dressed Up and Ready to Go!

We ate this with the aforementioned mashed potatoes, and some parmesan roasted cauliflower and garlic lemon asparagus.

Perfect on a Cold Night

Bran Muffins

In the weeks leading up to what I fondly called Babygeddon, I went on a bit of a crazy cooking and baking spree getting meals prepped and into our freezer.  I had purchased too large a carton of buttermilk when I made Ina Garten’s Mustard Roasted Chicken, and wanted to use it in some healthy muffins.  I turned to Smitten Kitchen and her recipe for Blue Sky Bran Muffins caught my eye.  I don’t mind bakery bran muffins, but they’re always LOADED with tons of added sugar – so much so that I actually always find them to be really sticky and gross from all the honey, juice, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and of course sugar in the actual batter too.  I was looking for a recipe that wasn’t going to give me cardboard muffins, but also not have so much sugar that I might as well have eaten a donut for breakfast.  This seemed like a great compromise, tasting much more like real breakfast than a treat.  Here’s the recipe!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/3 cups (315 ml) buttermilk (you can also use sour cream or yogurt thinned with a little milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) oil (such as vegetable, safflower, sunflower or olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) lightly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract, a little citrus zest (optional flavorings to add)
  • 1 1/2 cups (90 grams) wheat bran
  • 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 3/4 to 1 cup chopped mixed fruit (just about anything but citrus or pineapple will work, they say; I used frozen mixed berries for this batch here)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F and coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.
  2. Whisk buttermilk, egg, oil, brown sugar and any vanilla or citrus zest you’d like to use in a small bowl.

    Wet Ingredients – Buttermilk, Egg, Oil, Brown Sugar, Vanilla, and Tangerine Zest
  3. Whisk bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir wet mixture into dry until just combined and still a bit rough.

    Dry Ingredients – Wheat Bran, Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, and Salt
  4. Spoon two 2 tablespoons of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Add about 2 teaspoons fruit to each (dividing it evenly) and sprinkling the fruit with one of the teaspoons of granulated sugar.

    Sandwich the Fruit with Batter
  5. Spoon remaining batter (about 1 tablespoon each) over fruit and sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining teaspoon of granulated sugar.

    Sprinkle A Little Sugar On Top
  6. Bake muffins for a total of 16 to 18 minutes, rotating pan once midway through baking time for even browning, until a toothpick inserted into the center of muffins comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Do not overbake. Let muffins cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from tin.
  7. Do ahead: Muffins keep for 3 days at room temperature, longer in the freezer.

NOTE: This recipe makes about 12 standard size muffins (use a cupcake tin, not a jumbo muffin tin).

These, like any baked good, are best eaten the day-of, but they also freeze well.  The top won’t have that semi-crunchy texture to it, but you can pop one in the microwave for 30 seconds and it is still as moist on the inside as the day it came out!  These definitely made my list of go-to muffin recipes, and I’m excited to try it with some other fruit!

Blue Sky Bran Muffins

Apricot Pistachio Squares

Finally, a more recently made treat. I went on a solid 3-month hiatus from baking to try and have less temptation laying around the apartment. Our pre-wedding healthy eating habits went out the window during our honeymoon trip to Big Sur and Napa. It was the weekend after we got back from our honeymoon, and I had the biggest hankering to bake something. With it being summer (my favorite time of the year to make desserts), I thought I’d give this recipe a try.

Pistachio is hands down my favorite flavor in both sweet and savory dishes, and it had been a while since I last whipped up a pistachio dessert I really liked. I had never had anything with fresh apricots before, but I’ve taken a real liking to minced dried apricots in my stews or with some plain oatmeal. I saw this recipe on the ever-faithful Smitten Kitchen and had to give it a whirl:

INGREDIENTS:

Crust

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t table salt
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C (or one stick) unsalted butter, cold is fine

Filling

  • 3/4 C shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) all purpose flour
  • Few pinches of sea salt
  • 6 T sugar
  • 5 T unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 t almond extract (vanilla extract will work too, but almond extract really tastes the best for this recipe)
  • 1 pound firm-ripe apricots

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan (I used my handy dandy Pyrex).  Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet.
  2. Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps.  It should take 30 seconds or so for it to come together.
  3. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. For the sake of speed, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.
  4. Make the filling: In your food processor bowl (which does not need to be washed between these steps), grind your pistachios, sugar, flour and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks and add it and the egg and flavorings to the machine. Run the machine until no chunks of butter are visible.

    Filling Hungry?
    Filling Hungry?
  5. Spread the filling over mostly cooled (warm is okay but hopefully the freezer will have firmed the base enough so you can spread something over it) crust. Cut the apricots in half (or, you might find that you can tear them open at the seams with your fingers) and remove pits. From here, you have a few decoration options: you can place the apricot halves in facedown or up all over the pistachio base. You can do as I did, which is cut them into strips, then slide each cut half onto a butter knife or offset spatula, tilt it so that it fans a little, and slide it onto your pistachio filling decoratively. (With this method, I ended up not using all of my apricots.) You could also arrange the strips like petals of flower around the pan, like the apple tart I did a few years ago).

    It was pretty going in...
    It was pretty going in…
  6. Bake the bars for 60 minutes, or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free. This might take up to 10 minutes longer depending on the juiciness of your apricots and the amount you were able to nestle in. Let cool completely in pan; you can hasten this along in the fridge.
  7. Cut bars into squares.  Chilled bars cut with a sharp knife will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled.

 

Hands down the most hideous looking thing I’ve ever made. Ever.

Apricot Pistachio Squares
Apricot Pistachio Squares

But as tasty as they were ugly!

Peach Shortbread

Back from a long hiatus – and married at that!

Stone fruit season is finally here again!  I’ve been waiting a long time to post this recipe until peaches were in season again.  I made these for Kevin and his mom’s family birthday celebration last September and they were a delicious hit.  Shortbread is absolutely delicious, but I generally find it a bit too rich and heavy during hot months.  The peach in this really livened up the shortbread flavor, as did the crumbly topping.  Loved these – and they looked pretty too!

Here is the recipe, as adapted from the ever-faithful Smitten Kitchen:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 3/4 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour (or you can measure 3 C and remove 2 T flour)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 ripe but firm peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Brown the butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, foam, and then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).  Note that once you freeze the butter, the brown bits will sink to the bottom.  That’s totally fine since they’ll be thoroughly creamed together with the flour mixture!

    Frozen Browned Butter
    Frozen Browned Butter

    [Side note: You don’t HAVE to brown the butter, but it does make a big difference in taste!  If you don’t have time for this, just add two more tablespoons of flour (making 3 cups flour total) and cut softened butter into the flour with a pastry blender.]

  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender to blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly.

    Crumble Mixture
    Crumble Mixture
  3. Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

Out of the Oven
Out of the Oven

According to Smitten Kitchen, these hold up really well in the fridge. She also reckons these would freeze well, between layers of waxed paper, with the container sealed well in plastic wrap.  I can’t vouch for any of that because there were no leftovers from the birthday gathering to test this out with!

Peach Shortbread Squares
Peach Shortbread Squares

Now go take advantage while peaches are still in season!