Fresh Strawberry Shortbread Bars

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Strawberry season is in full swing here in California, and little roadside fruit stands are popping up every couple miles.  It’s hard to pass up berries that are sold within 50 feet of the field, so when I was assigned to bring dessert to our Mothers’ Day dinner, I decided to take advantage of the season.  I had the perfect dessert in mind: a shortbread crust, cream cheese layer, and fresh strawberry sauce.  Apparently my good idea was also somewhat unique, because search as I might, I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.  I combined and adapted a different recipe for each layer, and the results were strikingly awesome.  Here, for posterity and to better the world, is the result of my experimentation:

 

Fresh Strawberry Shortbread Bars

(or as Johnny suggested I call them: “Goooooooood.  With lots of O’s.”)

Crust (from Cooks’ Illustrated Perfect Lemon Bars)

  • 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2⁄3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup cornstarch
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 1 inch pieces

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Strawberry Sauce (source, slightly adapted)

  • 3 pints (6 cups) fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste

To prepare crust

Line 9″ x 13″ cake pan with foil and grease, then set aside.  In a food processor, pulse together the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt to mix well.  Add 12 Tablespoons butter and process to blend (about 8 to 10 seconds), then pulse until mixture is a pale yellow color and resembles a coarse meal, (about three-1-second bursts).  **Lacking a food processor, you can mix the first ingredients by hand, and grate cold butter into the bowl using the large holes of a box grater.  Toss butter with flour mixture, then rub coated butter pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.**

Pour crust mixture into the pan and press firmly into the bottom.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, while oven heats to 350 degrees.  Bake crust for 20 minutes or until light golden brown.  Let crust cool completely before adding cream cheese layer.

To prepare cream cheese frosting

Using hand mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar and vanilla until it reaches a spreadable consistency.  Using spatula, spread it over cooled crust and refrigerate while you make the strawberry sauce.

To prepare strawberry sauce

Remove stems from strawberries and slice them in halves or quarters depending on size (most of them are uncooked, so don’t leave them too big).  Put 1 cup of berries in a bowl and mash them with a fork or pastry blender (if they’re too firm to mash easily, microwave them for 10-20 seconds).

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan and add water.  Whisk until lumps are dissolved, then add mashed strawberries.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until sauce boils and thickens.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in remaining strawberries and add lemon juice to taste.

Spread strawberry sauce over crust, working quickly so that the warm strawberries don’t melt the cream cheese layer.  Return to refrigerator and chill until serving.

 

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7 Quick Takes: Easter Octave Edition

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Happy Friday!  Here I am blogging instead of watching the just-released-for-home-viewing Star Wars movie, so…you’re welcome.  We have big plans to watch it after Maddy goes to bed tonight, so I should need to make a popcorn and wine run this afternoon.

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We had a lovely Easter.  The Triduum looks a little different when you’ve got a toddler and no really stellar Mass options, but we made it work.  There’s a Ukrainian Catholic option in town, so we went to some of their services and really enjoyed the change.  Plus, the congregation is very small (as in, under 10 most days) and child-friendly.

On Holy Thursday, every Mass option was bilingual, which meant things took about twice as long as they would have at an English Mass, but Maddy was a trooper past her bedtime.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an authentic Spanish Mass (no, I don’t count my Midwestern university’s attempts).  The enthusiasm of the musicians was really something to see.

On Friday, we went to the Ukrainian Mass, which was celebrated for the Feast of the Annunciation.  Maddy was good for the first hour or so, and then lost interest and needed to sit in the car eating Cheerios.  She enjoyed climbing freely around the backseat.

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Happy as a clam and totally stuck.  She just politely said, “Hey, mama?”

We laid low at home on Holy Saturday; our bedtime disruption capital had all been spent on Thursday night.  On Sunday, we woke up bright and early and went to Easter Matins, again at the Ukrainian church.  There was a procession involved, and the priest’s wife gave Maddy a set of bells to ring whenever we said, “Christ is risen!”

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Hard to get a picture while carrying her and processing through the bushes, but you get the idea.

Johnny was conscripted into leading the procession, which ended with Father knocking on the closed church doors with a crucifix and announcing three times, “Christ is risen!”  It was great.

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Maddy is enamored by his hat and the bells on the thurible.  The Roman Rite is pretty dull in comparison.

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We didn’t manage to get a family photo because (ahem) someone changed out of his church clothes too early.  I may make everyone wear the same thing this weekend for a staged picture.  Pretend it’s real.

I did think to take photos of Maddy.  “We have lilies and a stuffed lamb!” I thought.  “How hard could a photo be?”

This hard.

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Fittingly for Easter week, our kitchen is full of various baked goods.  But they were all made under duress!  Really!  We couldn’t not have Easter brunch, and the pound cake was my contribution to Easter dinner.  And the cookies were because I thought Johnny was going on a business trip.  And the bread is there to go with the ham.  In short: I should’ve bought butter and flour shares.

 

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We totally skipped an Easter basket for Maddy this year, because she still thinks raisins are candy, but her grandparents and great-grandparents came to the rescue.  My mom sent her the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shining Light Doll, and she’s been carrying it around everywhere asking, “Who’sis?”  She’s currently fascinated by all depictions of Mary and Baby Jesus, so having a portable version is fun.

Johnny’s grandpa made her this rocking fish, which she likes but isn’t quite sure how to approach.  In a month or two, she’s going to be a rocking fool on it.

 

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The weather has been great this week, and Maddy has been begging to spend every moment outside.  It’s tough, because every surface is covered with pollen, and all three of us have allergies.  I’m trying to bite the bullet, though, so we’ve been to the playground a few times.

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Just practicing for Baby.  Given that she flipped it immediately after I took this photo, I think we’ll keep practicing.

 

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We have a lot of time to spend outside because she went down to one nap pretty much every day.  It’s great that we can count on her to sleep through the night now, but I’m missing the time I used to have to myself during the day.

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All I need to do is figure out how to eat in the shower while making phone calls, without anyone on the other end getting suspicious.  I can do this.

 

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We spent the last month dealing with a ridiculous car repair situation that resulted in finally getting a loaner car from the dealership for a couple weeks.  Any excitement I may have had about driving a cute Fiat was quickly squashed by the fact that it was electric and had a range of 74 miles.  Ever forget to plug your phone in at night?  Yeah, now imagine being stuck at home the next day while the car charges.  Needless to say, I’m not planning on a purchase anytime soon.  Once my car came back (two weeks later), I sent the list of repairs to my dad and asked how long it would take him.  Response: “Two hours including lunch.”  Awesome.

 

I’ve typed away a pretty fair portion of naptime, so it’s time for me to go do some adulting.  Enjoy your weekend – we’ll be going to something called Big Hat Days!

Linking up with Kelly, because of course.

7 Quick Takes, mostly about food

Geez, two posts in one day! If you're thinking that I must have lots of spare time…well, you'd be totally wrong. I have a lengthy to-do list, and this is my chosen means of avoidance.
1:
Yes, so much food. Why? Because being pregnant (not to mention living with a ravenous toddler), it's a major theme of my life right now. I can't say I have any cravings, per se, but I'm very suggestible. Watching Food Network becomes a constant litany of, “Oh, I'd eat that…” Sure, the rest of the house is slowly declining into a huge mess, but now that I'm not averse to most everything, I'm cooking like crazy.
 
2:

It doesn't happen to me too often, but yesterday I had the most spectacular baking failure. A loaf of bread from an America's Test Kitchen recipe looked promising going into the oven, and then went downhill from there. Down, and down….and down. Even after it came out of the oven, the top just kept sinking. I was looking forward to the easy sandwich bread they promised, but I think I'll keep looking. But hey! At least I knocked the bread knife off the counter and reflexively reached to grab it, so I've got a bandaid souvenir.


3:

I went to a tea party last night, so in addition to the ill-fated bread, I whipped up some lemon bars. I've been baking significantly less during Lent (and no desserts at all), so I seized the opportunity to use up some sugar on an all-Protestant crowd. I should really know better than to try a new recipe when I'm on a deadline and have a new audience, but I was looking for a way to showcase some beautiful fresh lemons we got from a friend, and this recipe seemed like just the ticket. A stick and a half of butter, six eggs, a cup and a half of sugar, and three lemons? What could go wrong?

I'll spoil the ending and say that they did turn out fantastic – the flavor is amazing, and the shortbread crust has great texture. However…I baked them for 4 times longer than the recipe called for, and I still wasn't convinced they were set. After some refrigeration, they were fine but still gooey. Next time, they need to be in a bigger pan so they can cook a little faster.

In other news, this was the first time I've left home after Maddy's bedtime, and she (and Johnny) missed me so little I may have to do it more often. She slept through the entire night for only the second time in her life. Of course, I still woke up every few hours in a panic that she was still quiet. I managed not to go check on her at all, because I didn't want to have to explain to Johnny that I had woken her up.

 

4:


After months of waiting (yes, I need another hobby), I was really excited for the opening of a new grocery store near our house – a sort of Whole Foods Lite, where most of the produce is local, and it's all cheaper than anywhere else. I managed to go to the big opening all by myself – Maddy was with Johnny's mom, so circle the bulk section repeatedly while ogling the granola variety like the very very cool person I am.

I texted Johnny a picture of my cart and told him, “I think we have to become salad people now!” One whole week later, and we haven't let anything languish in the fridge yet, so I'm counting it as a win.

We've been back a few times, and Maddy found a barrel of dried cranberries bigger than her, so I think she's a fan too.

 

5:

Not to brag, but I'm doing pretty well at Lenten Fridays so far. We eat meatless on Friday all year round, so it really shouldn't be any different, but for some reason I've been putting a little more thought into dinner the last few weeks. I learned recently that Johnny doesn't actually hate shrimp like I thought he did; he just hates overcooked shrimp. Fair enough. I've always been a seafood lover, so I'm happy to have this territory opened up for exploration. Last week, we had this lemon shrimp pasta, which was certainly one of the more photogenic dishes I've cooked in a while.

 

6:

Okay, enough about food (she writes, while pondering leftover lemon bars and a cup of tea). We recently got a chance to try a free trial of Google Express, and I'm afraid I might be hooked. With a pretty low minimum purchase, they'll deliver my order from Costco, Target, and other stores the next day. It's a very first-world service, but I had one Costco order delivered, and I can see myself getting used to it. We're at the point when a shopping trip can't be spur-of-the-moment, and once we have two kids under two, I may never leave the house again. Time will tell if I actually pay for the service ($10 a month) once my trial runs out, but I'm keeping my options open.

 

7:

On the agenda this weekend: the usual housekeeping catch-up and a little adulting (gotta get the cars registered in this state, among other things). Hopefully we'll balance that out with a trip to the zoo with the membership Maddy got as a birthday gift. It's supposed to be 80 and sunny, so it would be a shame to waste the nice weather.

Enjoy your weekend and Leap Day!

Linking up with 7 Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.

 

Maddy’s First Birthday!

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We did it!  A whole year of living for Maddy and parenthood for us.  I may have missed the last several months of updates about her, but darn it, I can snap my 3-month non-blogging streak long enough to commemorate her birthday in the correct month.

We had a pretty low-key dinner celebration (our family and Johnny’s), and then cake and gifts.  Maddy “helped” me “decorate” her cake (see above), which was just banana bread with frosting.  The adult cake was a flourless chocolate cake that was absolutely fantastic on it’s own, with the added bonus of being gluten-free (important for one or two of us).

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Maddy was pretty much totally uninterested in the candle or singing, but fascinated by Daddy holding the video camera.  Here’s the other angle of this photo.

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Cake eating montage:
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Yes, I did get all the chocolate out of her tutu.  Thanks, Zout!

We had have a few decorations up at our house still: a banner of monthly photos – which is a project I’m sure I’ll never do for any subsequent birthdays – and a sign, courtesy of Maddy’s cousins.

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Maddy is running headlong into her second year of life.  In the space of an hour earlier this week, she learned how to open the container of wipes and scatter them, pop the lid off a full cup of milk, smash a plate against the tile floor, and say, “NOT DIS!”

On the other hand, she’s also figuring out how to go play by herself, reading board books voraciously, and adding new words to her vocabulary every day (“breakfast” and “outside” are the ones I’m most impressed with).  She greets everyone with either a high-pitched “HIIIIIIIII!” or a very solemn “Hewwo.”  Her favorite things include string cheese, Daddy, and the stand mixer.

Happy birthday, Maddy C!  We think you’re pretty great.

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Yes…she got a ball pit for her birthday. What else are bachelor “uncles” for?

Friday Night in the Garden

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Last night, we met some friends at a local business with a genius idea: every Thursday and Friday, this garden center hosts food trucks and local music for a great night out among their plants.

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Statues of St. Francis and the Blessed Virgin chaperoned.

The music was great, the weather was perfect, and they even have a liquor license, so it was the complete package!

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Putting the “garden” in “beer garden”

There were tons of families and kids running around, and no one seemed overprotective of the potted plants and merchandise, which was refreshing (for the record, I didn’t see anyone abusing the privilege).

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There were at least ten food trucks parked around the perimeter, offering everything from bourbon pecan pie to wood-fired pizza.  I have a real weakness for both of those, but I stuck with the pizza, which was great.  Johnny’s mom is planning an event and needed a food truck recommendation, so Johnny sampled no fewer than nine tacos, for the sake of being thorough.

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They have events scheduled through the end of the year, so we’ll definitely be back!

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Maddy and Daddy, getting carded.

7 Quick Takes: California, you are crazy

Now that we’ve been in the Golden State for almost a month, I feel qualified to offer some observations. California, please take these in the spirit in which they are intended; namely, that of bewilderment and judgement.

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I feel that I was led here under false pretenses. No one ever told me about that the human population was so greatly outnumbered by the spiders (black widows, to be precise). The first time I saw one, on the screen of our bedroom window, I was the only one even remotely surprised or concerned. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t comforted to hear, “Oh, it’s just a little one.”

Luckily, my Minnesota-born family was more understanding via group text:

The second one was on the INSIDE of the screen door, and again, I was the only one who cared. By the time the third one showed up, a few days ago, I dared to get close enough to spray it with a bottle of Raid. Turns out, it was dead long before I got to it.


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The other day, I took Maddy outside to take her seven month photos. Within 20 seconds (no kidding), I saw 5 lizards (again, no kidding). I’m sure they were entirely harmless, but it didn’t seem like the best time or place to set my baby on the ground, so we scratched that plan. At this rate, I’m pretty much expecting that I’ve been lied to about the scarcity of snakes and earthquakes, too.



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It is, unsurprisingly, hot. I realized within a few days of getting here that my single pair of shorts was not going to carry me through till whenever the temperature drops. I went to the mall thinking that surely, shorts would still be a hot commodity (or at least available). As it turns out, no. It took me four trips to find a pair (on steep clearance, at the bottom of the rack). Meanwhile, there were crowds of people flocking to the puffer vests and leggings.

PEOPLE! Fall is not going to be a thing here until at least February!


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It rained earlier this week, and like a total dork, I stood outside in the rain (and brought my baby with me for good measure, so she doesn’t forget what water is).

 

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To be a good sport, I should also mention some good points about this strange state. First: the Mexican food is fantastic. Even the cheapest (okay, second cheapest) grocery store taco counter is better than any Mexican restaurant anywhere else I’ve lived.

Watch it, kid. We'll learn about sharing *tomorrow*.

 

 

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The scenery certainly hasn’t gotten old yet. This place was made for Instagram filters.

 

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One more…one more… Oh! Midnight EST, when blog linkups go live, is only 9:00 here, meaning I stand a chance of making it on the list above #100! With that said…

I’m linking up with Kelly and everyone who’s anyone!

 

 

Coconut Ice Cream (WITH Dairy!)

Coconut Ice Cream

I’m a huge fan of anything coconut-flavored.  From macaroons to soup to Starbucks’ dearly departed Banana Coconut Frappuccino, if it has coconut, I’m there.

Ice cream seemed like a natural fit for this flavor, but I searched high and low for a coconut ice cream recipe that used real dairy instead of relying solely on coconut milk.  In my mind, it’s hard to call it ice cream if there’s no cream.

In the end, I made my own recipe that’s loaded with coconut flavor while still using a dairy-filled base.  The amount of sugar can be adjusted based on your own preferences and how sweet the coconut is.  Mine was unsweetened, so I used 3/4 cup of sugar, and it’s plenty sweet.

Coconut Ice Cream

1 1/4 c. full fat coconut milk (optional: chill the can, scoop out the cream that rises to the top, and add remaining water to equal 1 1/4 cup)

1 1/4 c. heavy whipping cream 

1/2 c. milk 

1/2-3/4 c. sugar 

1 tsp. vanilla 

1/2 c. coconut (optional: pulse in food processor to give a smoother finished texture)

Toasted coconut for garnish

Mix coconut milk, cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  If the coconut milk is lumpy, mix with a hand mixer (it should just take a minute or so to smooth out).  Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.  Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions, about 20 minutes.  Add shredded coconut during last minute of chilling.  Transfer to freezer-safe container and freeze until hard.