Easy Lemon Bars

fresh_lemon_picture_167142We are having a little false spring here in North Carolina. The ice storms and snow are gone and at the moment we have temperatures in the low 70s. I say “at the moment” because I understand winter will return next week 😦 In the winter, I love to bake and bake and bake, but once the weather turns warm, I want to be outside. My menus turn to quicker meals, grilled foods and all things lemon. Every so often, we accumulate a ridiculous collection of cut lemons, especially when we start cooking using lemon zest. Since one of our goals is to not waste the food we have, I call on a familiar recipe to turn lemons into…well…lemon bars!

Lemon bars are one of those wonderful, southern desserts that combine creamy, sweet custard with tangy lemon flavor. Next to a lemon pound cake, and Italian limoncello, I think lemon bars are a perfect complement to sunny, southern days. These are pretty effortless, so if you are intimidated by making a custard, this is a great dessert for a first try. Note though, that these lemon bars will not be a bright yellow color like you see in restaurants or from a box mix. I don’t use food coloring because really, I don’t care how yellow it is as long as it tastes lemony. So these squares will be a delicate, pale yellow, but still pack plenty of sass. If the light color bothers you, add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the filling and you will be happy.

We used whole wheat pastry flour from a local farm for this recipe, but if you don’t have whole wheat on hand, unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. We also use our yummy local farm eggs in the filling. While lemons are, of course, not local to North Carolina, we do buy organic lemons, especially if we are zesting them since that is the portion of the lemon in highest contact with pesticides.

I’m hoping to make some of these this weekend before our weather gets brisk again. I’ll sneak any little bit of summer in that I can!

Easy Lemon Bars

Crust

  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/3 c. organic confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into pieces and chilled

Custard Filling

  • 1 c. organic, granulated sugar
  • 3 large farm eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. organic, grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice from organic lemons (about 2 large lemons)

Topping

  • 1/4 c. organic confectioners’ sugar (optional)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray or oil.
    3. Make the crust by combining all the dry ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl. Add the chilled butter and incorporate using a fork, pastry cutter or your fingertips until the crust has the consistency of course meal.
    4. Add the crust mix into the baking pan and press into an even layer along the pan bottom.
    5. Put the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes, then cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
    6. Remove the baking pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.
    7. Make the filling by combining all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing with a wisk until smooth.
    8. Pour the filling over the warm crust and cook for about 20 minutes or until the filling is set.
    9. Remove the pan from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve or (I like mine cold), pop the pan into the refrigerator for another 30-45 minutes.
    10. Cut into 9 large bars and put bars on a serving platter.
    11. Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over the bars.

Happy spring baking!

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Tutorial Tuesday 12–Homemade Electrolyte Drinks

citrusYou over there. Yes, you, the one on your way to the gym to fulfill your New Year’s resolution. Put down the neon colored “sports drink”. You heard me. Put it down!

The ubiquitous “sports drink” phenomenon is baffling to me. I’m not sure at what point it became a requirement for anyone who sweats to drink a neon-colored electrolyte replacement. Look at any youth soccer/basketball/softball game. Parents are hauling in cases of Gatorade instead of water. Say what???  Let’s take a time out here.

Here is a fact about exercise and hydration: most of the time that most of us exercise, we are not exerting ourselves to the point of needing electrolyte replacement. Everyone is different, of course, and longer workouts where you are really pushing yourself are great candidates for electrolytes. Typically, though, the majority of us do not sweat so much in a 30 minute weight room session (or even a 60 minute Zumba class) that we need electrolytes, especially when they are combined with chemicals, neon colored dye and sugar. No matter what the commercials say.

Healthy hydration actually starts BEFORE you exercise, and it can make a big difference. If you have a big work out coming up or if you know, for example, you will be skiing all day, drink plenty of water in the day or so before and you will see the benefits. I’ve had to learn this the hard way–trust me, your body will thank you for starting out hydrated!

If you are exerting yourself to the maximum and water just won’t cut it, do your body a huge favor and stay away from most electrolyte “sports drinks.” Most of them are full of junk like high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and chemical dyes. If your body is starving for hydration, why would you feed it that? Here are two tips for you that I have discovered while training for our half marathon:

  1. Water is always good for you. Always.
  2. Making your own sports drink is easy, cheap and healthy.

Typically, we drink water on our runs under 10 miles. Anything over 10 miles and I bring one little water bottle and one little bottle of this awesome electrolyte replacement. It tastes better than packaged sports drinks, is very refreshing and uses all natural ingredients. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t brightly colored and it isn’t endorsed by athlete celebrities. But it is very good.

If you eliminate the salt and honey, this recipe would make a great flavored water drink for a hot day, for a post soccer game drink or a day when you are just sick of drinking water, but don’t need the extra sodium.

So stay hydrated–even in cold weather–and enjoy those winter workouts! But steer clear of the junk–treat your body like the wonderful machine it is!

Electrolyte Replacement Drink (makes 2 servings)

  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 large oranges (1/2 cup of juice)
  • 2 lemons (1/4 cup juice)
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink Himalayan or natural sea salt (not table salt)
  1. Put water, juice from the oranges and lemons, honey and salt in a blender.
  2. Blend for 30 seconds.
  3. Chill and drink as needed.

NOTE: You can replace the orange with another citrus fruit or even tart cherry juice.

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