The Saucy Scholar

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Recipe: Lemon Squares

For such a seemingly simple dessert, I feel like Lemon Squares (aka Lemon Bars) are one of the most difficult to pull off. Some people like them tart and lemony, others prefer more sweetness, and still others grew up eating them from a mix and will only be satisfied by that exact taste. It was almost enough to discourage me from even trying altogether, but the truth is I can’t resist a challenge, and the prospect of possessing the perfect Lemon Squares recipe is just too good to pass up–it would probably be more impressive to some family members than my doctorate!

So, is it perfect? Let’s just say, if there were a Platonic Ideal of Lemon Squares, I think this might be it. Of course, this recipe comes from none other than the great Martha Stewart. It’s simple and effective, and is more tart than sweet–if you use fresh-squeezed lemon juice, you can’t go wrong. If you do prefer your Lemon Squares on the sweet side, you can change the proportions of juice to sugar in the filling–I actually added another tablespoon of flour and another tablespoon of sugar myself, and the filling set quite nicely and was silky smooth.

Martha has a few other recipes for Lemon Squares out there (including one for Creamy Lemon Squares that I’d like to try one day.),  but what I liked about this one is that it sticks pretty much to the essentials, and can be easily customized to taste. For instance, I may add lemon zest and a bit more sugar next time around, and not use every crumb of the pie-crust mixture so I can get them just a little bit thicker. Also, this recipe makes use of some very interesting techniques that I had never heard of , like freezing and then grating the butter for the pie-crust to make it easier to work with, and lining your glass dish with parchment. Once it’s done, you just lift the parchment paper and transfer to your cutting surface, and voilà–you have yourself a giant Lemon Square ready for cutting and sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar. If you’re looking for a dessert to bring to a BBQ or other gathering this summer, this might be just the thing–sometimes the simplest desserts can be the biggest hits.

Recipe: Beef Empanadas

This savory, spicy, and sweet version of the Spanish classic was given to me recently by my mom, who knows my deep love for the empanada and for quick, relatively simple recipes I can make in my woefully undersized kitchen. This version uses refrigerated pie crust, which is definitely a time-saver and gives the empanadas a slightly buttery, flaky texture.

Beef Empanadas

My mom clipped the original version of this recipe from a magazine that I unfortunately do not know the name of, but Susan Spungen is credited as the writer and “Food Stylist.” (which sounds like the best job in the world, by the way.) I’ve re-written it slightly based on my experience cooking it, but the recipe itself is the same. I’ve also included some ideas I had for alternate fillings, for the daring among us.

What You’ll Need

  • 3/4 pound ground beef (I used just about the leanest ground beef I could find in my supermarket–healthier option and less greasy!)
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 small canned chipotle in adobo sauce, minced (I used about one and a half chipotles for a little more heat.)
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons raisins (almost omitted these, but so glad I didn’t!)
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2 14.1-ounce packages refrigerated, rolled pie crusts
What to Do:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. The Filling: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the ground beef, breaking it up and browning until no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes. Drain and remove from skillet. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook over medium-low until translucent. Then add the beef back in, along with the tomato paste, cumin, chipotle, adobo, and water. Cook and bask in the wonderful aroma for 6-8 minutes, then add your raisins, salt, and pepper. Cook for about a minute more, then transfer to a bowl to cool.
  3. The Dough: Cut each round of pie crust dough into 4-inch circles, which should give you 16 empanadas. Don’t waste the scraps! Just combine and roll out, for 8 more. Spoon a tablespoon of filling onto each, then moisten the edges with a little water. Fold over, and press to seal. Use a fork to crimp the edges, and to prick steam vents in the pocket of each empanada. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until browned, about 15 minutes.

These came out fantastic, and will definitely be in my regular rotation. You can probably also make some great substitutions for the filling–ground turkey, lamb, or cheese and cooked veggies. Using yellow raisins might also yield a slightly different flavor and make for an interesting color combination. My mom also suggested brushing the tops with milk or eggs, for a nice browned crust.

Also, I absolutely loved the smell and flavor of the canned chipotle in adobo, and am on the hunt for more recipes using this tasty pepper. If you have any you’d like to share, feel free to leave them in the comments!


The Saucy Scholar

Five Napkin Burger: Believe the Hype

Since moving to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, I’ve become something of a burger snob, if there can be such a thing–between the sudden popularity of gourmet sliders at the local gastropubs and the abundance of excellent burger joints in the area, it takes a lot for a burger to impress me these days. After hearing all the rave reviews of the 9th Avenue location of Five Napkin Burger, I was ready to write the place off as just another overpriced tourist trap–but after my Uncle invited us to dinner there last night, I realized why the place is nearly always filled to capacity. The reason is pictured below:

Original 5 Napkin Burger

The Original 5 Napkin Burger, hands down, is definitely one of the tastiest burgers I’ve had. Weighing in at 10 ounces and cooked to perfection (this is one of those places where medium actually means medium), it was already a cut above the rest. The rosemary aioli was, quite literally, the icing on the cake. (I didn’t know what it was at the time, other than delicious, but aioli is a mayonnaise-type sauce that is popular in Provence, and usually consists of garlic, olive oil, and an egg as the emulsifying agent.)

However, fancy mayo alone does not a perfect burger make. The Original 5 Napkin also comes with melted gruyere cheese and a generous portion of caramelized onions, a mouth-watering combination to be sure. My uncle had a special burger that wasn’t on the menu, and I believe was only being offered last night–it was very similar to the Original, but Italian style–mozzarella cheese, roasted bell peppers, and pesto aioli. I didn’t taste it myself, but there was not a crumb left on his plate by the time he was through.

As for the dining experience itself, it was well above average. When we were originally seated next to the door (on the first legitimately cold night of the winter), the hostess was able to find a new spot for us, even during prime dinner hours, and our waitress was friendly and attentive. I felt that the service was almost a little too quick, but that’s understandable on a weeknight around 7, 7:30pm at a place like this. The dining area is a combination of upscale restaurant and burger joint–cloth napkins and dim lighting, with naked Edison bulbs and meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. They have a full bar, but their beer selection is where it’s at–the Five Napkin Nut Brown Lager is full-bodied and flavorful, but light enough to be the perfect accompaniment to their rich, juicy burgers.

The only real downside for me was the price, but, by New York City standards, it’s not the most expensive burger around, but it is also not your typical weeknight comfort food fare. My advice would be to go in with a full wallet and an empty stomach, and you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Report Card:

  • Food: A
  • Service: A-
  • Atmosphere: A-
  • Price: B+

GPA: 3.725 (A-)

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