24 June, 2013

Key Lime Bars

The ultimate summertime dessert. 

Lemon bars have always been one of my favorite sweet treats.  I love the tartness, sweetness, and bright yellow color.  They look, feel, and taste like summer.

So why not key lime bars? 
Key limes are more tart and aromatic than your traditional supermarket lime, and a bit sweeter than lemons. These little fruits have been around for thousands of years and have been traced back to the Indo-Malayan region, North Africa, Palestine, and Mediterranean Europe.  Key limes now flourish in the Florida Keys, hence the origination of their name, though they have also been called the Mexican lime and West Indies lime. This is why the Florida Keys allegedly have the best Key Lime Pie! 

I was looking for a quick and easy dessert to bring to a small farm picnic.  I'm part of a group at a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we participate in a workshare.  In English, we work for 2 hours a week on a farm, and in return receive a bag with farm fresh produce. This is an excellent way for a farm to gain some help without having to pay for workers, and we get the pleasure of getting my hands dirty, learning all about gardening, weeding, and farming in general, AND we get to harvest my own vegetables.  I've been harvesting tons of spinach, swiss chard, kale, mizuna, lolla rossa, misc lettuces, radishes, and turnips.  We're still waiting for the tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and tons of other veggies to be ready. 
We are so excited about the gorgeous lettuces we've been harvesting that we decided to have a farm picnic after we work at the farm. We make a big salad with just-harvested greens, bring a few sides and a few beers, and enjoy the farm! This past week I brought these key lime bars, and they were a hit. Creamy, tart custard on a graham cracker crust, topped with fresh whipped cream. How can you go wrong? I baked them on parchment paper for easy removal from the pan to get pretty bars.
This recipe does make a tart key lime bar. I like tart.  If you desire a less tart, sweeter bar, reduce the amount of lime zest by half, and add an extra 1/4 cup sugar. These are fast and easy to make, but remember they must be refrigerated at least 4 hours after baking, preferably overnight, so allocate enough time for yourself.  Although I consider these a great BBQ/picnic dessert, they should be kept cool, so keep them in a cooler unless you want key lime soup  ;)
Happy picnicking!

Key Lime Bars
This is based on Martha Stewart's recipe
Makes about 16 bars

1 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup plus 3 tbsp sugar, divided
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest
2/3 cup fresh Key lime juice (about 23 limes)
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk 
Parchment paper

1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Key limes, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 tsp grated lime zest, for garnish

  1. Make the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the parchment paper to line a 8 inch glass baking dish- leave two sides hanging over the dish so you can easily lift the bars out. In a bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, 3 tbsp sugar, and melted butter. Dump this mixture into the baking dish and firmly press the crumbs down until an even layer is formed. Bake for 10 minutes, let cool completely on a wire rack, leaving the oven on.
  2. Make the custard filling. Use an electric mixer to whisk the egg yolks and lime zest. Whisk on high until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add the condensed milk in a slow, steady stream, mixing constantly. Raise speed to high and mix until thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed back to low again and add lime juice; mix until just combined.  Spread mixture on top of cooled graham cracker crust. Bake 10 minutes, rotating halfway, until the top is set and barely jiggly. Cool completely on wire rack. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  3. Make whipped cream. In a large bowl or electric mixer, whip cream until large peaks just start to form.  Add the confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat just until stiff peaks form. 
  4. Get bars ready for serving. Remove bars from refrigerator and use the parchment paper to lift the entire square out of the baking dish. Use a large, sharp knife to cut bars into desired size. Wipe the knife after every single cut you make to achieve pretty, clean bars. Decorate with whipped cream in whatever fashion you desire. I cut the tip off a ziploc bag and used a decorating tip to pipe the whipped cream on top of the bars, sprinkled some lime zest on top, and finished the bars with a thin slice of lime. 
  5. Refrigerate.  The bars can be kept for up to 3 days in a airtight container before they are topped with whipped cream. Once topped with whipped cream, they should be eaten the same day. 

17 June, 2013

Copper River Salmon on Seared Garlic Greens with Herbed Oil, Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad

Have you heard of Copper River Salmon?

Wild and sustainably caught, Copper River Salmon is one of the most sought after salmon in the world. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game monitors Copper River Salmon weekly to ensure that an abundant number of salmon reach their spawning grounds, ensuring a long-term replenishing supply of Copper River Salmon in the future.

Copper River is a 300 mile river in Alaska, the 10th longest river in the United States. It's quite a hike for these local, wild salmon to swim this long stretch of river to reach their spawning grounds, requiring the salmon to store up on those healthy omega-3 fatty acids to make the journey.
Wild Alaskan Salmon is super healthy- high in protein, more vitamin D than a glass of milk (in a 3.5 oz filet).  And those omega-3's...  they are likely to have a role in:

  • Lowering chance of sudden cardiac death, risk of a first heart attack, and the chance of having a second heart attack.
  • Stabilization of abnormal heart rhythms
  • Reducing chance of developing degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's
  • Reducing chance of development and severity of varied severe mental disorders
  • Stabilization and regression of plaques (deposits that clog arteries) that could fatally rupture.
  • Optimum development of the brain and eye in the womb and in young children (when integrated into pregnant womens' diets)
  • and many other health benefits as well!***

What does that mean in relation to the taste of the fish?  It means Copper River Salmon is succulent.  The extra omega-3's combat the fishy flavor, making for a 'meatier' fillet of salmon (almost like cutting a steak!) This salmon is a deep red in color, and when preparing this fish, I opt for simplicity- let the quality and taste of this fish shine through. 
I simply pan seared it with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  I had a bunch of greens I had harvested myself when working on a CSA (community supported agriculture farm), so I sauteed them all up together with some bacon and a bunch of garlic- fresh spinach, swiss chard, kale, mizuna, and the leaves from radishes and turnips (yes, you can eat those too!) Added a squeeze of lemon juice towards the end and seasoned with salt and pepper.  So good The Boyfriend even liked them.. and he hates cooked dark greens. You should have seen his face when I told him what I was making. 'I hate spinach' he said.  He didn't know what anything else was.  :)   If you know someone that doesn't like dark greens, saute them in bacon. Sure, it's not the healthiest way of preparations, but if you want all those vitamins and nutrients in your loved one's diet- bacon will do the trick.
A simple and fresh Sicilian Orange Fennel Salad accompanied the salmon and greens.  This is one of my favorite summertime side dishes- use blood oranges if you can find them, but whatever you can find will suffice. To slice the fennel thinly, use a vegetable peeler! It's so much easier and provides really thin slices of fennel, making for a delicate presentation. This makes for a great picnic/BBQ salad, by the way. 

Black olives are often added to this salad- the salty, briny olives complement the oranges really nicely. 
The Boyfriend would have left me if I tried to serve him olives, so I skipped them.

You can find Copper River Salmon at most supermarkets.  It's usually advertised heavily when it's available (mid-May to mid-June-ish).  It generally runs about $14.99/lb, and is worth the price.  

Copper River Salmon on Seared Garlic Greens,
 Sicilian Orange Fennel Salad, Herb Oil
 Serves 2

Two 7 ounce Copper River Salmon fillets 
(makes two just-over-5 ounce servings)

1 lb Fresh spinach, kale, or mixture of dark leafy greens on hand, washed and dried, stems removed
2 slices of bacon
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 oranges, peeled, segmented, and pith removed- INSTRUCTIONS FOLLOW
1/2 large fennel bulb, sliced thinly (or vegetable peeled into thin slices)
1/2 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
About 2 tbsp fresh basil (chiffonade- cut thinly)
One lemon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Herb Oil Recipe follows

  1. Make the Sicilian Orange Fennel Salad.  In a bowl, gently toss together the oranges, fennel slices, red onion, basil, a pinch of salt (omit of adding olives), and drizzle with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 
  2. Make the Salmon. Brush salmon with olive oil until coated and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over medium heat until hot (about 3 minutes).  Add the salmon to the skillet, meat side down and the skin up. Cook for 3- 4 minutes, checking to make sure salmon is not sticking to the pan and until golden in color. Flip the salmon, skin side down, and continue cooking until the salmon flakes easily with a fork- about 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness of your fillet. Slice a couple slices of lemon and serve on top of the salmon.
  3. Make the Seared Garlic Greens. Add the bacon to a large, cold skillet. Turn heat on medium.  Cook bacon until crispy, flipping once. Remove bacon and set aside. Add half the greens, stirring to coat in bacon grease. Saute for a minute or two, until beginning to wilt. Add the rest of the greens and the garlic. Stir to coat. Saute another 2 minutes, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of 1/4 of a lemon.

Herb Oil:
Super simple-  Add 1/4 cup oil to a small pot, and throw in a handful of fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, parsley, and a bit of oregano. Heat oil over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring with a rosemary sprig. 

Use rosemary spring to brush the herb oil over the salmon.  

How to segment and remove pith from an orange:

  1. Cut the top and bottom off of the orange.
  2. Peel the orange.
  3. Use a paring knife to slice the pith (the skin) off each orange segment. Do this gently to maintain the orange slices. Try not to break them in half. 
  4. Reserve any orange juice that leaks out and add to the Sicilian Salad. 

***Information on Omega-3 fatty acids gathered here