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It has finally gotten cold in the desert, so I must admit, I’m spending more time running indoors. Like 15 of my 20 per day miles, indoors. Like I’m having to take Vitamin D supplements in one of the sunniest places in the country, indoors.

Yes, I am a big fat baby.

But since I’m not training for anything, I just can’t get motivated to put on gloves and a hat and all those extra layers, without which I spend the whole run whining about how cold it is. Instead, I can get on my treadmill, put on the Great British Bake Off, and watch all those incredibly lovely and polite Brits turn regular “sponge” into peacocks, and meringue into Her Majesty’s crown. Now really, doesn’t that sound more entertaining than frostbite?

Since I’m indoors most of the day, I’ve taken to cooking up big pots of soups and stews – things that need to be left to their own devices for a long time to work their magic. Tim, over the last 10 days, has been the very gracious consumer of Baked Potato Cheese Soup, Steak Soup, Chicken and Rice Soup, Texas Chili and last night, Corn and Cheddar Chowder. He hasn’t even given a hint of, “What the heck is she doing?! How much soup can a man eat?” Nope. He’s been very pleasant about the whole thing (maybe because he’s afraid of some sort of soup/stew coup). Anyway, lately, there is always some sort of pot on the stove, just like in the Wicked Witch’s gingerbread house. When I’m in, I go all in, My Pretty.

This Corn and Cheddar Chowder is really just a result of needing to make something different without actually making something different. Know what I mean? I’m not a huge fan of corn chowder because it is too sweet (remember my weird thing about non-dessert sweet foods?). I really wanted a creamy soup, something I hadn’t made in awhile (which ruled out Cream of Asparagus, Potato, and Cauliflower). I went to the store and saw the last of the fresh corn.

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Ehhh…Corn Chowder kind of sounded good, but I wasn’t just dying for it. Then I thought, what if I figured out how to “savory it up” (that’s cooking talk, y’all)?

And this recipe is what happened. I’m now a huge fan of Corn Chowder, especially when it has two cups of cheddar cheese and two cups of half and half. Seriously. How could that ever be bad?

P.S. I realize I have mixed witch references from Shakespeare, Grimm and The Wizard of Oz above, but as long as I’ve conjured an image of a crazy-bat witch hovering over a steaming cauldron, my work here is done.

 

Corn and Cheddar Chowder

3 strips of bacon, cut into bite size pieces

¼ cup unsalted butter

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 bell peppers (I used orange and green, but your choice)

4 ears of corn, kernels cut off

2 tablespoons AP flour

4 cups chicken stock

2 cups half and half

Salt and Pepper

 

In a large stew pot or dutch oven, brown up the bacon over medium high heat. Get it nice and crispy so it doesn’t go limp in the soup.

Add the butter. After it has melted, add the chopped onions. Cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped bell peppers. Cook another 5 minutes, or until all the vegetables are softened.

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Add the corn kernels and cook for another 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

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Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir for one minute.

Add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 10 minutes so the soup thickens.

Add half and half and cheddar cheese. Stir well and let simmer, making sure all the cheese is melted and incorporated.

This soup can simmer on very low for awhile as long as you keep stirring it periodically so the cheese doesn’t stick to the bottom. It will continue to thicken, though, so I turn off the heat and let it hang out on the stove (for up to an hour) until I’m ready to serve it.

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This is a weird time of year for baking. I seem to be simultaneously up to my eyeballs in baked goods while constantly craving something I don’t have. Maybe it’s because everywhere I look there are recipes for gingerbread, spice cake, and rum balls, but my body is screaming (okay, probably just humming) for the lighter flavors of spring – citrus, raspberry, almond, and anything with the word “cream” in it. I want light, fluffy, tangy, not heavy, sad, could-possibly-live-in-your-grandmother’s-hall-closet-until-next-Christmas desserts.

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So, when my parents presented me with three (!) gorgeous Meyer lemons from their very own tiny lemon tree that they have lovingly named Fred, (don’t ask), I was over the moon. It’s December, and while citrus may be a thing in California, it is not a thing here in the desert. Lemon desserts are not served in the winter, not found on anyone’s holiday buffet, not left on my doorstep by loving holiday elves (hint, hint). Now, while I love the strudels, fudge and pecan cookies that cross my doorstep (and are pretty much devoured before they can even be offered to guests), I am too often left craving a nice smack of something tart in the winter. With my gifted Meyer lemons, this smack-craving was going to be satisfied!

Lemon bars are very traditional – nothing too fancy schmancy about them – but that is why they work so well at this time of year. Who has time for a multistep lemon chiffon cake or the patience to deal with meringue when there are presents to buy, cards to address (which, if I’m honest, I haven’t done since 2006), and elves to put on shelves? Lemon bars let you get your tang on without interfering with all the chores joy of the holiday season.

Now, I used Meyer lemons here because (a) that’s what Mom and Dad gave me; but also because (b) they are sweeter and juicier than regular lemons. If you can’t find them, though, don’t sweat it. Most lemon bars that you know and love are made with plain ol’ lemons from the store. Really, how can you go wrong with crust, lemons and sugar? You can’t.

 

 

Classic Lemon Squares

1 cup AP flour

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus another 1/4 for the lemon filling

2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup lemon juice

powdered sugar for finishing (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8 x 8 baking dish. Line with parchment paper, allowing paper to go up sides of pan. Butter the bottom of the parchment paper.

In a stand mixer, combine butter and powder until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour and mix until combined (may not fully come together, but don’t worry, when you press it into the pan it will hold). Press dough into the bottom of the pan, using your fingers to bring dough together and flatten. Push dough all the way to the edges and build up a small lip so that the filling will not spill over.

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Bake crust for 20 minutes, until lightly brown around the edges.

Beat (in another bowl or the rinsed-out bowl of your mixer) the remaining ingredients until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Pour over hot crust. *You can do this while your crust is baking!

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Bake for 25 minutes, or until there is no indentation in the center when touched lightly. (See that hole in the center? That’s what happens when you jam your finger in the center because you are trying to answer the phone at the same time. Don’t do that.)

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Cool in the pan on a baking rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional).

 

 

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