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Luscious Lemon Bars (feel free to eat the whole pan because you can!)

Today is a day that you are going to be glad you're reading my blog.  Yes-sir-ee!  Good day in the kitchen!  The Meyer Lemons in my fridge have been begging me to use them, so I went for the lemon bar.  Having tried a sweet lemon bar recipe a while back from Isa C. (who is a phenom in the vegan kitch world), I had a plan.  I am also pretty particular with my sweets.  I don't like anything too sweet... so there's that!  I like my lemon bars lemony rather than super sweet and I need a base that's gluten free... it's a bit of a departure from a normal lemon bar recipe!  I need something worthy of a cuppa tea.   Right, the result of my crust experiment is nothing short of buttery, amazingly flaky shortbread that you totally should write home to mom about.  Actually, I suggest you make a batch and bring some to mom and have an afternoon of tea and biscuits!  If she's not close, mail them!  If she's no longer with us, grab your bestie and share!  So much potential for this shortbread biscuit crust.  I can't wait to experiment with it and share more ideas with you! The lemon layer is akin to jelled lemon curd.  Getting the right level of jell is the tricky part.  You don't want something that's wiggly like unset jello, but you don't want something with no give at all.  Enter agar agar and arrowroot!  These guys are like a dream team when it comes to vegan jelling.  If you haven't worked with agar agar before, know that it's a great thing.  It has jelling properties that rival gelatin but it's seaweed based rather than animal based.  Eden Foods brand of agar agar is what I use.  [caption id="attachment_271" align="alignright" width="300" caption="GFV Lemon Bars"]GFV Lemon Bars[/caption]    GFV Lemon Bars Crust 1 cup amaranth flour 1 cup almond meal ½ cup powdered sugar ½ cup arrowroot powder 1 cup vegan margarine, like Earth Balance
 Filling 1 1/3 cups water 3 Tbsp agar agar flakes 1/3 cup sugar + 4 packets stevia or 2/3 cup sugar 1/8 teaspoon turmeric (gives the brilliant yellow color while not adding any flavor) 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (I used meyer lemons ~ yum!) 3 Tbsp arrowroot powder 1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest (from two large ORGANIC lemons)* OR 1 tsp lemon extract if your lemons are not organic 1/2 cup almond milk 
 *I only zest my citrus if I can find organic because of the high level of pesticide use on non organic citrus fruits.  Do what makes you comfortable. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. [caption id="attachment_275" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="the flours"]the flours[/caption] 
 To prepare the crust: Pulse the flours, sugar, arrowroot and Earth Balance in your food processor. The dough is not crumbly, it is moist but not pourable.  You will need to scoop the dough out of the food processor and scrape the sides to get it all out!  Moisten your hands and press the dough into the corners of your prepared baking dish.  Then try to get an even layer that covers the bottom of the pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool. [caption id="attachment_272" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="shortbread crust dough"]shortbread crust dough[/caption] [caption id="attachment_273" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="dough in the pan"]dough in the pan[/caption] 
 [caption id="attachment_274" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="golden crust"]golden crust[/caption] To prepare the luscious lemon filling: Start by soaking your agar agar flakes in the water for 10 minutes. I sprinkle mine over the top of the water and walk away.  Get your lemons zested and juiced.  Measure out 2/3 cup of the fresh lemon juice and mix your arrowroot powder until it dissolves.
 When the agar has been soaking for 10 minutes go ahead and put the pot on the burner.  We are looking to boil this mixture so the softened agar dissolves.  This usually takes me 10, sometimes 15 minutes.   When the agar is dissolved, add the turmeric and your sugar/stevia or whatever combo you’ve chosen to use.  Stir this wildly yellow mixture until everything is dissolved and there are no lumps.   Now it’s time to lower the heat so we’re just barely bubbling... anything more than a light bubble and we’re going to end up with a mess!   Add the arrowroot/lemon juice mixture and whisk.  Raise the heat a hair and keep whisking.  You will feel the mixture start to thicken as it comes to a low boil. Again, AND I STRESS, we are not aiming for a bubbling cauldron here!  Do that and the arrowroot will lose its gelling power.  Exercise a little restraint with the heat… go slow and your labor will pay off!  Otherwise, you will have a super tasty lemon sauce that you can drizzle over berries and such, but you won’t have anything that will thicken worth a dime!  Okay.  Back to business:  Add your zest or lemon extract and the almond milk. Whisk these into the thickened mixture.  You may want to taste this now.  The safe way to do it is to get a clean spoon and dip it into the hot lemon liquid, then take it out, blow on it for a moment and then swipe your finger over the spoon… then lick your finger.  You should have cooled your sample enough that you won’t burn yourself.  If you need to adjust the sweetness, go ahead.  You know your tastes.  I like my lemon bars lemony with a bit of a kick.
 Remove your pan with the cooked lemon mixture from the burner.  It’s time to cool this a bit.  Give it about 10-15 minutes to come to room temperature.  Cooling happens quicker when we’re not near the residual heat of the stove.  I put mine on a metal trivet on the counter in the coolest part of my kitchen. Pour the cooled lemon mixture over the cooled crust, refrigerate.  We’re aiming for 2 hours of chill time minimum to ensure that the filling sets.  If you can leave it for a bit longer that will be better.  Also, if you used a smaller baking dish than 9 x 13 you will have to chill longer to accommodate the thicker lemon layer. [caption id="attachment_276" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="lemon layer"]lemon layer[/caption] If you want to make the tops of these bars look fancy you can sprinkle powdered sugar over top through a fine mesh strainer.  You just tip in about 3 Tbsp of powdered sugar and then tap the side of the sifter to get a snow like dusting.  Not necessary by any stretch, but it sure does look pretty! You’ve done well and are in the home stretch… it’s time to slice the bars into squares and serve them.  Size is your choice.  Sometimes I go the dainty one bite square root.  Today I am slicing tea worthy bars.  You should make them the size that makes you smile.   (Heck, if you just took a fork to the pan and scooped out a bite I won’t tell!) [caption id="attachment_277" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Luscious lemon goodness!"]Luscious lemon goodness![/caption]


Pot Pie Perfection

Chicken pot pie was one of my favorite meals as a child.  My father made a tasty version… so did Stouffers!  We had both from time to time.  I remember the smell that filled the house when pot pie was on the dinner menu.  I remember being served individual size pies in all of their steaming glory and the sound that my fork made as I broke into the crust.  These memories were enough to make me want to share pot pie with my family.  I also like the idea of a kid friendly family meal that can use basically any veg I have on hand.  The sauce is what seals the deal on the kid friendly factor.  My kids like a creamy sauce, so I improvised and employed coconut crème concentrate.  You can use coconut milk or any milk of your choice.  Since we’re dairy free its coconut, almond or cashew milk for us when we’re looking for creamy!  Recreating pot pie with my twists means that we’re not using chicken.  We’re not talking about using fancy fake meats here either.  You can if you want, but I don’t think you’ll miss anything if you don’t.  If you want a toothsome bite try adding a few cups of shitake mushrooms that you’re just going to chunk rather than dice. Good gluten free crust isn’t a hard thing.  Actually, gluten free vegan crust is a real cinch.  Not what you’d expect since gluten crusts are a royal pain in the you know what!  But I wouldn’t lie to you.  The crust I made tonight incorporates teff flour for a hearty, almost whole wheat flavor.  What you’re going to get when all is said and done is a nice crust that is a bit flaky.  It’s a crust that will crack when you whack it with the back of your fork and that’s a satisfying thing.  Almost more satifying is the simple fact that this crust will take you about 2 minutes to pull together.  Yupper! Drop me a comment when you try this for yourself.  Remember to adapt the veg to your liking.  If you feed meat eaters you can always add in a cup of diced whatever once the sauce is done.  Mushrooms, quorn or beans would also be fine add-ins. Vegetables 1 onion, diced, about 1 cup 4 carrots, diced, about 2 cups 1 bunch organic celery, sliced or diced, about 2 cups 1 tsp olive oil 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced ½ lb corn kernels, fresh or frozen ½ lb green peas, fresh or frozen (not canned… canned peas are criminal!) Sauce 4 cups water, hot 4 Tbsp broth powder ½ cup tapioca starch in ½ cup water 4 Tbsp coconut milk (or coconut crème if possible) Several grinds of pepper Crust 1 cup GF flour blend (I use Bob’s Red Mill but you can use your favorite) ½ cup teff flour ½ tsp xanthan gum 3 Tbsp vegan margarine (like Earth Balance) ½ cup cold water Turn on your oven and get the thing headed to 425 degrees. We’re going to start by prepping our veg, so dice the onion, carrots and celery and mince the garlic.  Heat your olive oil over medium high heat in a large sauté pan.  Throw in the onion, carrots and celery and stir them up to coat with the oil.  It’s important to move the veg around every few minutes so nothing burns.  We’re looking for the onions to soften, lose their edgy bite and gain a hint of golden color.  The celery and carrots are in the pot to soften a hint but not turn to mush.  After 6 minutes stir in your garlic and let it sauté with the other veg.  Top to bottom on this step, 8 minutes.  Spoon the cooked veg into a bowl and set aside. Okay, add 4 cups of hot water to the sauté pan that the veg came out of.  Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate any browned bits.  Sprinkle your broth powder over the water and whisk it in until it’s well incorporated.  If you have homemade vegetable stock or another prepared broth you can substitute it.  While the broth is coming up to a simmer let’s prep our thickener.  Put the tapioca starch into a small bowl and pour ½ cup of cold water over it.  Stir or whisk until the starch dissolves in the water.  Set this bowl aside until your broth is boiling.  When you see your broth boiling go ahead and grab your whisk and begin to whisk the broth as you pour in the starch water.  The broth will sauce with lots of vegthicken quickly.  As soon as it does take it off the heat.  Tapioca starch is great, but it will lose its hold if you boil it for too long.  Add the coconut milk and stir it into the hot mixture.  If you have coconut crème concentrate I recommend using it because you’ll end up with a creamier sauce. Take those cooked veg that you set aside earlier and mix them into the sauce.  Last step in the prep is to toss in the corn and peas and stir to combine. Time to work on the crust.  A stand mixer makes quick work of this step, so let’s dust yours off and bang it out!  Gluten free crust is much easier to manage than gluten crusts, in my opinion.  You’ll see why in a minute… I mean that!  Add all of the ingredients into the mixer, hook in your paddle attachment and lock everything down.  Set your paddle on low speed for a few seconds to work in the Earth balance and then increase the speed for about a minute.  You’ll watch the mixture change from something dry to something crumbly and then something that looks like a regular old dough.  If whats in your mixer is too dry add a tablespoon of water and mix again.  If your mixture is too wet add a tablespoon or two of teff.  Your dough won’t be sticky or dry… it will be perfect!finished teff dough Lightly flour your work surface with rice flour or teff flour.  Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick.  If you are making one big pot pie then roll the dough out to your pan dimensions.  If you are making individual pot pies just cut the dough into circles to fit your ramekins. I made individual pot pies in 1 cup ramekins.  If you’re following my lead go on and spoon about ¾ cup of veg/sauce into each ramekin and top with a round of dough.  You’re going to bake the little guys off for about 18 minutes or until the crust is firm.  I’ll say that I didn’t notice any browning, but the dough is dark due to the teff.  Give the tops a tap and when they’re firm and sound dry you’re ready to take them out.  Making one big pan?  Okay.  Spoon the filling into the baking dish of your choice and top it with the dough.  This guy will go into the oven for anywhere between 25 and 40 minutes depending on the size of your baking dish.  Again, your rule of thumb for when its done is going to be tapping it. ready for the ovenhot out of the oven Whatever size you make, let it cool for a few minutes before serving. If you have leftover dough you can make empanadas or turnovers or just bake extra rounds and eat them with hummus  or use them as a pizza crust base. extra dough