February is probably my least favorite month. The holidays are long over and “holiday weight gain” isn’t a viable excuse anymore and all I’m left with is short days, cold winds, and winter jackets. Thank goodness it’s a short month.
By the time March comes around all I can think about is the changing of seasons. The sun rises a little earlier, the weather warms up just enough so I don’t need to wear my heaviest of winter coats, and the vendors start selling fruit other than apples, pears, and citrus fruits… It’s still winter, but at least I have the promise of spring.
Regardless of the season, there is always an abundance of lemons in Italy, but for me, they are the perfect transitional fruit from winter to spring. They’re bright, sunny, and cheerful and remind me of lemonade stands, tea parties, and picnic blankets… all things I hope to do come spring… In anticipation of spring, sundresses, fresh blooms, and a change of seasonal produce, I made Lemon Bars.
Lemon Bars are a simple and classic dessert with a shortbread crust and a smooth, sweet, and tart filling. Some recipes use condensed milk or cream cheese to make a less tart and creamy filling, but I personally love the traditional sour and lip-puckering filling, which is why I love this recipe! If you love the tanginess and tartness of lemons, then this is definitely your go-to Lemon Bar recipe. This filling is TART and will surely wake up your taste buds. If you are serving these to a crowd, be sure to cut your Lemon Bars into small bite-sized triangles and dust it with powdered sugar to cut the tartness since some people might find the tartness and lemon taste overwhelming… Weaklings.
Spring may not be here until March 20th, but at least you can brighten your day with these Lemon Bars until then! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to change into sweats and watch Gossip Girl all day since I refuse to go outside until the sun shines again.
Lemon Bars recipe by Ina Garten:
For the crust:
½ pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
- To make the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into prepared baking sheet, building up a ½-inch edge on all sides. Chill for 20-30 minutes.
- Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
- To make the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
- Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
I don’t mess around with Banana Bread recipes. I’ve already coined my mom’s recipe as “The BEST Banana Bread” so there really is no reason to tinker with it…. unless I can’t find sour cream.
As much as it kills me, I had to substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream and the results were… noteworthy. Like, my friends devoured it within seconds and Tony, who hates bananas and attempts to only eat dessert on the weekends, was eating this for breakfast at 8AM on a Monday.
stubborn loyal person so my mom’s recipe still remains “The BEST Banana Bread,” but this version… this version was pretty amazing, especially for something that replaces sour cream with a healthy ingredient. However, I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to post a healthy dessert so I added a healthy serving of Brown Sugar Crumble on top. It’s not optional. This crumble kind of makes the bread.
If you’re looking to eat healthy, then you probably shouldn’t be eating dessert in the first place, but this bread– full of bananas and protein-packed Greek yogurt is surely a decent runner-up and a lot more fun than no dessert at all ;).
Brown Butter Banana Bread by The Bite-Sized Baker:
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
4 ounces full-fat Greek yogurt, room temperature
4 ounces milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups ripe bananas, mashed (3-4 bananas)
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Brown Sugar Crumble:
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup flour
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- To brown butter, place butter (8 tablespoons) in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (be careful not to burn), 5–8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
- To make the brown sugar crumble, combine brown sugar, flour, and 2 tablespoons of the browned butter in a small bowl using your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare one loaf pan.
- To make banana bread, in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add baking soda, Greek yogurt, milk, and vanilla and blend well.
- In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, alternating with the mashed bananas.
- Pour into prepared loaf pan, sprinkle crumble generously over, and bake until top is brown and a toothpick comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.
I’ve made a lot of silly and impulsive purchases in my life… Namely, in the kitchen department.
A quick fling with a double-bladed curved knife when I was obsessed with making all salads “chopped,” a gold Madeleine pan that I’ve used a total of two times, three different kinds of ice cream scoopers that sit in a drawer because I never actually eat ice cream with the intention of eating an entire bowl (I prefer to eat it straight out of the container with a spoon and standing in front of the freezer while constantly telling myself, “One last bite!”). A dozen milkshake cups… because who doesn’t make milkshakes regularly for 12 people? A mini cupcake pan, which isn’t that ridiculous, I just never use it and it irks me to my core. A 50-piece cake decorating kit, an endless edge brownie pan, a football-shaped cake pan, a mango pitter, a honey dipper, pretzel rod molds, six different tart pans, mini brioche pans, the list goes on… All things I simply could not live without at the time.
Thankfully, my poorly thought out kitchen includes 15-foot cabinets that I am unable to use unless I whip out an actual ladder so the majority of my impulsive kitchen purchases just sit in the cabinet… collecting dust until I open the cabinet door to throw in some other useless kitchen tool I impulsively bought that week.
My Lodge Cast Iron Skillet does not fall into that category and is one of the best kitchen purchases I’ve ever made. I was in college at the time when I bought it and thought a $70.00 purchase for a 15-inch skillet just seemed irresponsible, so I wimped out and only spent $37.00 for the 12-inch skillet… this was my one regret. But then again I didn’t know I would end up living with a man who regularly eats 2 pounds of meat in one sitting. If you’re a normal human being with a normal appetite, the 12-inch skillet comfortably feeds 3-4 people, whether it’s 6 chicken thighs, 4 burgers, or 20 meatballs.
I use my cast iron skillet probably 4-5 times a week… It just sits on my kitchen counter most days because I am either too lazy to reorganize my small pantry (that I can regularly access without a ladder) to make space for it ooor I just use it THAT frequently! I roast whole chickens, pan-sear chicken thighs, roast pork tenderloin, fry/bake steak… I’ve even baked a cast-iron Peach Brown Butter Buckle (which was absolutely amazing and as soon as peaches are in season, I’ll be blogging it) and Chocolate Chunk Skillet Cookie in this bad boy.
Yesterday, I made Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice from the beloved Jerusalem: A Cookbook in my cast-iron skillet and as always, it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, since I could only fit 6 chicken thighs in my 12-inch skillet, Tony ate the entire thing while I ate leftovers from the night before. But he was doing the happy dance at the table while eating it so I knew I had to recreate this dish to blog… and to eat… since Tony is leaving town tomorrow. Yipeee! No sharing for me!
This is a comfort meal for the masses! It’s a simple, warm, and fragrant one-pot meal that you can prepare and serve in less than an hour. It will make you want to eat the entire thing with a wooden spoon straight from the stove or do the happy dance while sitting at the table.
Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Cardamom Rice from Jerusalem: A Cookbook:
3 tablespoons sugar (40 grams)
2 ½ tablespoons barberries, or use currants (25 grams)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (2 cups/250 grams)
2 ¼ pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (1 kilogram), or 1 whole chicken, quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 cardamom pods
Rounded ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
2 long cinnamon sticks, broken in two
1 2/3 cups basmati rice (300 grams)
2 ¼ cups boiling water (550 milliliters)
1 ½ tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves (5 grams), chopped
½ cup dill leaves (5 grams), chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves (5 grams), chopped
1/3 cup Greek yogurt (100 grams), mixed with 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
- Put the sugar and scant 3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the barberries, and set aside to soak. If using currants, you do not need to soak them in this way.
- Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion has turned a deep golden brown. Transfer the onion to a small bowl and wipe the pan clean.
- Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl and season with 1½ teaspoons each salt and black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and use your hands to mix everything together well. Heat the frying pan again and place the chicken and spices in it. Sear chicken for 5 minutes on each side and remove from the pan (this is important as it part-cooks the chicken). The spices can stay in the pan, but don’t worry if they stick to the chicken. Remove most of the remaining oil as well, leaving just a thin film at the bottom. Add the rice, caramelized onion, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Drain the barberries and add them as well. Stir well and return the seared chicken to the pan, pushing it into the rice.
- Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, cover the pan, and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan, and seal again with the lid. Leave the dish undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm with yogurt mixture if you like.
Well, friends, Tony and I have officially lived in Italy for a year as of today, February 12th, 2015!
I wish I could say I wake up every day and count my lucky stars that I’ve been given this wonderful opportunity to live abroad, explore new cities, visit art museums, and eat pasta and gelato every day, but the reality is, that’s just not true at all… In fact, most days I wake up to 30+ missed text messages from my three sisters while I was sleeping and I just think about how badly I wish I were near friends and family, or just people who spoke the same language as me… But that isn’t to say this past year hasn’t been one of the best in my life. It’s just different. Everything is different.
When people ask me what’s it like to live in Italy, my response is always the same, “There aren’t any huge differences, but everything is a bit different.” And all those little differences eventually begin to add up and cause you to explode at times!
A few months ago, Tony and I were driving home and in typical Italian fashion, there were cars parked illegally with their hazards on all along the right lane of a busy three-lane road. This infuriates me. Many Italians think they’re entitled to just stop in the middle of a busy road, throw on their hazards, and run a few errands—despite the traffic jam they’re causing or the legally parked cars they’re blocking. Tony and I just laugh and say, “So Italian,” and then we do the same thing the following day. But I wanted to write down all these instances of Italians being Italian just so I could take it home with me and remember it forever! I have an ongoing list of 100+ things, but for the sake of time and retaining your attention, I’ll limit it to 12… One thing for every month I’ve lived here!
**Please note that these are just my personal observations on what is DIFFERENT and what I have LEARNED about living in Italy in the past year. These are not OPINIONS on what I would change or dislike… except for maybe the bad driving, long queues, smelly sewage, and toothbrushes.
1. Walking on the sidewalks of Italy is kind of like a big game of “Chicken.” The sidewalks here are TINY and when you’re walking past another person, someone typically has to step aside to allow the other person to pass without one of you ending up on the street. If you’re truly Italian, you’ll just walk in groups of 2-3 and make zero effort to walk in single file line when walking past others. Speaking of lines, they are a comical concept here. If there’s a long line somewhere, most Italians will just cut in front of you if you look remotely like a tourist. I always like to scream “No cutsies!” in Italian and surprise them with my language abilities (or lack thereof).
2. Despite age, PDA is prevalent and excessive. I don’t know what it is about making out on a public bench or in the middle of the sidewalk, but it gets pretty intense around these parts. I can’t help but judge the adults I see getting after it in front of building doors. Just go upstairs already!!! Also, I never realized this until moving to Italy, but I get pretty uncomfortable hugging and kissing my friends hello and goodbye every time I see them… I see you guys every day, why must I kiss and hug you as if it’s been ages? But when in Italy, I say “Ciao!” and I kiss both cheeks– right side first. I’ve made the mistake of going left more times than I can count resulting in some pretty awkward kissing exchanges.
3. Italy might have the best coffee in the world, but catching up with friends over a cup of coffee ((let’s be real, a “latte”) in a cozy coffee shop does not exist here. In fact, sitting down is an extra surcharge and drinking anything with milk after 12 o’clock is frowned upon in Italy. For a long time, I tried to blend in and adapt the Italian coffee culture by standing at the counter and gagging down shots of espresso, but what kind of life is that if you don’t enjoy it?! Thankfully, Tony and I befriended the owner of the coffee shop down the road so he doesn’t give us weird looks and charge us extra when we sit down to drink our coffee and talk for 30 minutes versus standing at the counter and taking shots within a 2-minute time period.
4. When dining in Italy, prepare yourself for at least a 2-3 hour meal. You can either get upset at the relaxed service and slower pace of food, or you can use that time to actually savor each course and engage in conversation with your dinner date. The food is truly amazing and for the most part everything is sourced locally so you have access to organic produce, meat, and poultry without the price tag. But be aware of the giant mounds of gelato, this is not the real stuff! A 2-foot mound of gelato might look tempting, but walk away!
5. Driving is a big ticker for me, which is kind of ironic because I don’t drive 95% of the time. When people say Italian drivers are crazy, they are absolutely correct. General rules of driving, staying in your lane, and blinkers DO NOT exist here. Also, caravanning in Italy is nearly impossible. Without fail, every time we embark on a driving expedition with friends, we are all lost, separated, and calling each other within five minutes of entering the autostrada. Our Italian friend has confirmed that this is always the case when caravanning with Italians. Lastly… enough with the roundabouts, Italy! Italians and roundabouts just DO NOT work. As Tony and I like to say, “it’s a total clusterf*ck.” (Photo Below: Our first “caravan” experience to the Apuan Alps.)
6. Florence does not have a centralized sewage system and when it rains, it fricken stinks…. Typically each building has their own septic tank and I’m not sure what exactly the connection is, but Tony and I cannot turn on the heaters in our apartment without the place smelling of sewage. Bella Italia!
7. American students studying abroad have zero cultural awareness and they make me ashamed to be an American girl sometimes. American students have a pretty bad reputation among Italians— loud, sloppy, and stupid… I understand, you’re in college, and that’s what college is about! But when you’re studying abroad, observe your surroundings and notice that women aren’t scantily clad, screaming their conversations, and getting white-girl wasted on a Thursday night. Take note, ladies and gentlemen. Cover up and pipe down. (I didn’t have any photographic evidence of this, so I just posted a picture of me; scantily clad and drunk on a boat instead.)
8. Italians are significantly more attractive, more stylish, and in better shape than Americans. Italians would never be caught dead wearing work-out gear, flip-flops, or anything that may also be worn to bed in public. Every single Italian, regardless of their economic status, takes pride in themselves and is always perfectly put together and the women always seem to be toting around some designer purse, typically Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, or Gucci. Not only are the women stylish and chic, but they’re also naturally beautiful and they never seem to wear that much makeup. I don’t understand it… and how can everyone afford designer brands?? (Just trying to blend in.)
9. This a huge pet peeve of mine…. Italy does not sell soft toothbrushes– only medium or hard. This absolutely irks me to me core. My parents have invested way too much money in my dental and orthodontic care to result in receding gum-lines because of abrasive toothbrushes!!! That is all.
10. Italians love dogs! Italians love to whistle at your dog from across the street or come up to you and just start petting your dog without asking permission. You can literally bring them EVERYWHERE too. And believe me, I do…. Grocery stores, pharmacies, IKEA, dressing rooms, restaurants, bars, gondolas… everywhere! But with all those dogs walking about, just be aware of the dog poop on the sidewalks. Apparently, it is very un-chic and un-Italian to pick up after your dog.
11. Inefficiency. Everything. Everything is inefficient. I can’t even begin to describe to what magnitude because it’s just… exhausting. Off the top of my head, the garbage trucks… If you just picked up trash at 5-6AM instead of 9AM, you would avoid a 20-minute traffic jam. Or the number of people working the cash register at a grocery store on a busy day… Why is there only one cashier open when there are five people just chilling? It took Tony and I FIVE days and three separate visits from the technician to get functioning Internet in our apartment. Also, NO ONE uses debit or credit cards here. Everyone pays in cash. And if you’re total is €4.85, they expect you to pay the exact amount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed over a bill and the cashier asks me if I have the exact change and waits for me to count out .85 centesimi.
12. That being said… Italians ENJOY life… In Italy, life is much more relaxed and unhurried and this laid-back mentality is prevalent in EVERYTHING they do… Time is flexible and there is nothing that important that can’t wait until tomorrow. So drink that glass of wine, enjoy that pasta, gesticulate your stories, show up late, kiss your friends and family, and dress to impress… perché no?! Unless you are a brutta figura, then go back to where you came from.