lemon curd tarts

Last Summer, I had at my disposal four glorious months off.  Aside from catching up with friends I don’t see often, and sleeping in past 5:17 am, my goals for the sabbatical included daily workouts, and a home-cooked dinner at least four nights a week.  There’s no need to confess the outcome of either of those goals right now.

Eventually, I missed having a schedule, and began volunteering at two kitchens that serve the underprivileged in the community.  Outside of the required number of servings of protein, fruit and vegetables that have to be provided for meals, there was dessert to be thought of.  The center didn’t have a disposable income, so we often had to get innovative with the ingredients available.  One day, we received a donation of pre-made tart shells, and happened to have extra lemons on hand.  Another volunteer quickly seized the opportunity, and the result was a potion equally sweet, tart, thick, silky and delicious!  A hit all around, I had to make them again!

Meet lemon curd tarts.

DSC_0058-2

 

The curd makes a great and simple dessert, and was really nice atop a toasted (and buttered!) blueberry English muffin this morning.  It would be divine between the layers of a cake, inside of a crepe, or drizzled over fluffy pancakes.  It’s acceptable by the spoonful as well.

 

Materials (makes about 1.5 cups)

zest and juice of 3 lemons
1 cup granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
pinch coarse salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cut into several pats

 

Protocol
1. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs.  Add sugar, salt, lemon zest and juice, and whisk to combine.  Transfer to a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet, and place on medium heat.
2. Bring to a gentle boil and continue to cook, whisking often, until mixture is thick, about 5-10 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, stir in butter (a pat or two at a time), and whisk slowly until curd is smooth and silky.
4. Cool and store in the fridge.
5. To assemble tarts, fill each homemade or store bought tart shell or Phyllo cup with about a tablespoon of curd, and top with a fresh raspberry, blueberry or dollop of whipped cream.

 

The next time life hands you some lemons, get in the kitchen and make lemon curd!

easy, no cook, chocolate peanut butter pudding

Though I rarely turn down chocolate, if forced to choose, I’d rather have a savory snack.  Yet, somehow I’m always whipping up sweet things in the kitchen.  A husband who’ll remain unnamed may be to blame.  He already requested a peanut butter cheesecake for his upcoming July birthday, but has been asking about mousse for months!  I was feeling particularly lazy today, and constrained my mousse recipe search to those with active times of less than 10 minutes.  The result is closer in texture to pudding, but tastes great, took all of 7 minutes to put together, and used up a brick of tofu that was about to expire.  Me loves it!

pudding1

 

Materials (makes 4 4-ounce servings)

1 package silken tofu
1/3 cup natural (no sugar added) creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup vanilla bean syrup*
1/2 cup cocoa powder
pinch coarse salt
chopped, roasted peanuts for garnish

 

*Any liquid sweetener (honey, agave, simple syrup) will work, but the amount needed depends on what you use.  I make my own vanilla bean syrup, which is really sweet, so 1/4 cup did the job.

 

Protocol
1.  Place all ingredients into a food processor, and blend until smooth and incorporated.
2.  Pour into serving glasses, and refrigerate for about an hour.  Garnish with peanuts before serving.

DSC_0012

homemade sugar scrubs

Due to the advent of Spring and my general OCD-ness, I have been on a cleaning and organizing rampage.  Aside from the construction zones, things stay pretty clean around here, but periodic de-cluttering is necessary even at my house.  No drawer or cabinet is safe.  My baking shelves in the pantry were first to get ransacked, and I found all kinds of stuff I had forgotten about.  I planned to make a gift for my friend’s birthday, so finding lavender buds, two containers of coconut oil, and more mason jars than I know what to do with was a pleasant surprise.  My afternoon had a new purpose, and it didn’t involve yard work.  It was gonna be another great day after all.

Homemade scrubs are so easy to make, the scent combinations are endless, and you can quickly whip up a batch from ingredients probably already in your cupboards.  All these smell super yummy, and are a delightful treat for your skin.

Let’s start with my favorite, which also happens to smell like a cupcake!

vanilla bean coconutVanilla bean coconut
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3-1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 Tbsp vitamin E or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, scraped

 

DSC_0042-2

 Lemon & lavender
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vitamin E or grapeseed oil
juice and zest from 1 lemon
2 Tbsp dried lavender buds

 

 

vanilla latte scrub

 Vanilla latte
1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp coffee grounds
1 Tbsp cold espresso, or coffee extract
1/3-1/2 cup vitamin E or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

 

Protocol

Simply stir all the ingredients together in a bowl, then transfer to a jar or other airtight container until use.  Adjust amount of sugar or oil, depending on whether you prefer your scrub thicker or runnier.

Enjoy!

coconut milk lentil soup

Despite it officially being Spring, Portland weather has been rather moody.  Ten minutes ago, there was a downpour.  Now, the sun is out.  All I want to do is slip into my velour jumpsuit, get under a blanket and read for hours.  Or do something equally as productive.  Or not.  And lucky for me, I can do just that.  Life’s really easy these days, and I’m taking full advantage, partly by treating myself to hot, home-cooked lunches (with naps to follow).

This dish is similar to the lentils I make as part my Indian feast, but because of the extra can of coconut milk, it’s soup.  Over time, it absorbs moisture and thickens, and is wonderful atop rice, couscous or quinoa, and even fresh greens.

Warm and comforting, here’s to you, a hug in a bowl.

DSC_0001-3

 

Materials

1 1/2 cups lentils (I used brown)
6 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cans coconut milk (I used one can full, one can “lite”)
8 ounces frozen spinach (or a few handfuls fresh spinach, kale or other greens), optional
coarse salt to taste

 

Protocol
1.  In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine lentils and stock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook until lentils are soft (cooking time will depend on the type of lentils you choose).
2.  In a non-stick skillet, melt butter, add onions and cook on medium heat until translucent, about 15 minutes.
3.  Add the garlic and all spices, stir and cook for a minute.
4.  Transfer spiced onions and garlic into the pot with the lentils, and add the coconut milk and spinach, if using.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, then salt to taste.

vanilla bean pots de crème

Portland is at the tail end of a snowstorm that’s left me homebound for five days.  I usually don’t mind extra (especially mandatory) time off work, but the snow and ice are plenty enough to intimidate my spaceship off the road, so even though I’m within walking distance to everything I could possibly need, I haven’t been able to go to the craft store!  Snowed in AND no crafting material?! Un.  Acceptable.  I can, however, make use of the kitchen.  The guarantee of an imminent face stuffing was ample recourse for cabin fever.  Problem solved.

DSC_0065

The first time I made pots de crème, I was in a Springy mood and made honey lavender.  So easy, and they turned out wonderful, but today I went with a classic, and my absolute favorite– vanilla bean!  I also didn’t have ingredients for any of the other flavors I imagined, and didn’t feel like putting my face on to walk to the market.

Pots de crème are basically crème brûlée without the burnt sugar top.  For that I need a torch, which I don’t have, but is amongst other things, on my birthday wish list.  I sure hope a certain someone is reading and taking notes because time’s a tickin’!

On to our mini baked custards…

 DSC_0078-3

Materials (makes 6 4-ounce ramekins)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract or paste
1 vanilla bean, scraped

 

Protocol
1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees, and set a pot of water to boil.
2. Beat the yolks and set aside.
3. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla bean and caviar scraped from the vanilla bean.  Bring to a gentle simmer, remove from heat and allow to steep for about 20 minutes.
4. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk, and discard or repurpose in a jar of sugar.
5. Whisk the warm milk into the egg yolks, add vanilla extract or paste, and dispense evenly between the ramekins.
6. Place the ramekins into a 9×13 baking pan, and add enough boiling water to come about halfway up the ramekins.
7. Tent the baking dish with a piece of foil, and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until set.  Custards should be solid at edges, and jiggly in the center (they’ll become more solid as they cool).  Cool at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until serving.
8. Garnish with fresh whipped cream, or not.  Yummy either way.

3-layer peanut butter, coconut & chocolate bars

From the moment I first saw these bars on Oh She Glows, I’ve been planning to make them.  The long ingredient list, all the steps, and the cooling period intimidated me, though.  But today, the midpoint of my two-week break from work, seemed as good a day as any.  Turns out, it’s a pretty simple recipe, and the bars are just a perfect little dessert– sweet (but not overly), creamy, crunchy, chocolatey, coconutty and peanut buttery.

DSC_0185-2

Aside from the small mess I made in the kitchen, these bars are a hit and I will be making them again, but experimenting with different nuts, nut butters and maybe even white chocolate.  A nice perk of all the bowls and utensils required is that you get to lick everything along the way.  So, put on your prettiest apron, and get to it.  Your efforts will be worth it.  I promise.

 3 layer bars

Materials (makes about 24 semi-bite sized squares, slightly adapted from Oh She Glows)

For the base layer
1/2 cup oat flour (I made some by running a cup of oats in a food processor for a few seconds)
3/4 cup dry-roasted almonds
1 cup old-fashioned dry oats
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey (I used homemade vanilla bean syrup)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

 

For the middle layer
1 cup peanut butter (I used natural, crunchy)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract, or paste
pinch of sea salt
1 cup rice crisp cereal

 

For the top layer
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup shredded (or dessicated) unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut, or coconut  flakes

 

A few (maybe obvious) notes before you begin:
1. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so melt before using.
2. The almonds in the base can be raw, roasted, whole or chopped.
3. Toast coconut by baking in a 350 degree oven for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

Protocol
Before you begin, pre-heat oven to 350, and prepare an 8×8 inch pan with two pieces of parchment paper, one going in each direction.  Set aside.

The base
1. If you need to make oat flour, place oats in a food processor, and pulse until a semi-fine flour forms.  Add the almonds and pulse until a fine meal forms.  Then, add the remaining ingredients, and pulse for about 30 seconds, or until combined and sticky.
2. Press mixture into prepared pan, and even out.
3. Bake for about 13 minutes, turning midway if necessary to bake evenly.  The edges will be slightly crunchy; the center, softer.  Cool on a rack for 10 or 15 minutes, while you make the middle layer.

 

The middle
1. Place peanut butter, coconut oil, syrup, vanilla, and salt into a small saucepan, and heat on medium heat until combined.  Add cereal, and stir.
2. Pour onto cooled base layer, spread evenly and place in fridge or freezer for 30-45 minutes.
3. Remove from freezer, and cut any way you please, depending on whether you want rectangular bars, or smaller squares.

 

The top
1. Heat chocolate chips, and coconut oil in a small saucepan on medium until most of the chocolate chips have melted.  Remove from heat and stir until chocolate has melted.
2. Add shredded coconut, and stir.
3. Spread over cut bars, and top immediately with toasted coconut (so it sticks to the chocolate).

Bars can be stored in the fridge, or at room temperature if your house is relatively cool.

3-layer bars

crispy, baked sweet potato fries

Potatoes– my ultimate comfort food.  Baked, fried, mashed, in salads, kneaded in dough, on pizza, and always worth mentioning, as chips, mixed with sour cream.  But shrinking pants remind me that I shouldn’t partake as much as I prefer to.  I do anyway.

Sweet potatoes have been creepin’ up on the French fry scene for quite some time.  If on a restaurant’s menu, I convince Tim to order them, while I get regular fries.  The best of two potato worlds.  With a little time, and no deep fryer or several inches of boiling fat, crispy sweetheart fries can be yours.  I inhaled a handful fresh out of the oven, and paired the rest with a piece of lemony, herb salmon.  Some may have been dipped in homemade curry mayonnaise.

DSC_0107

 

Materials (serves 2)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thin strips, lengthwise
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
coarse salt to taste
1/2 tsp cumin, optional
1/2 tsp smoked paprika, optional
1/4 tsp Cajun seasoning, optional

 

 DSC_0106

Protocol
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Rinse sweet potato strips  in a colander, and place into a bowl of cold water.  Soak for 30-60 minutes (helps create crispier fries).  Drain, and pat strips dry with a clean kitchen towel.

3. Toss potato strips with olive oil, salt and spices and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.

4. Cook for 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven, and turn periodically, if necessary.

 

ceviche

Last week, my friend hosted a birthday party, and as lovely as it was awaiting a storm in a lush green backyard, surrounded by funny people, banana trees and hostas, the most memorable part was the food.  Coincidentally, the peach nectar vanilla vodka cocktails were also very agreeable.  Doesn’t take too much to send me into a tickled oblivion.  The reason for this rant, however… the ceviche *sigh*  I used to think it was weird because the fish is cold and not traditionally cooked, but I’ve been converted.   

DSC_0087-4

Of course I overate, and of course I asked about the recipe.  I was told, “Some white fish, a bunch of limes, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, avocado, and salt n’ pepper.  And garlic if you want.”  No amounts, no solid instructions.  This is also how my mom explains her recipes, so I was used to such a loose method.  Always spectacular, few variations of a dish are ever identical.

At the market, I ordered the fish by looks.  It turned out to be a few ounces over a pound, and the rest of the ingredients just kind of fell into place.  Ceviche probably doesn’t even need an exact recipe, but when I make something I really like, I want to be able to recreate it.  In the lab, data mean nothing if they’re not reproducible, and I’m all too familiar with the “n of 1″ concept.  That kind of nonsense science doesn’t fly in my kitchen.

DSC_0082-2

 

Materials (serves 5-6)
1 pound fresh tilapia (or cod, or any other white fish), deboned and chopped into small pieces
juice of 15 limes (about 2 cups)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 avocados, cubed
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 

Protocol

1.  Place chopped fish into a bowl or plastic bag, add lime juice, salt and pepper, and stir.   The acid in the lime juice is what’s going to “cook” the fish, so make sure all the fish is covered.

2.  Set the dish/plastic bag in the fridge for about 45 minutes.  You can let it sit longer, but the “cooking” time depends on the size of the fish pieces.  Fish is done when it’s opaque/no longer translucent.  Every 15 minutes or so, stir the fish/lime juice mixture.

3.  Once the fish is ready, add chopped onions, tomatoes and half the cilantro bunch.  I chopped it directly off the stem.  Use less if you don’t love it, or more if you do.  Stir, return to the fridge, and let sit for another 20 minutes.

4.  Just before serving, add avocado, gently stir, and top with more cilantro.  You may drain some of the juice if you prefer less liquid.

 

This ceviche is wonderful atop tortilla chips or tostada rounds, and is best eaten the day it’s prepared (the leftovers were a little too tart for my liking the second day).  It’s light, fresh, Summery and it’s absolutely OK to go overboard.  But first reassure your mother that you’re not consuming raw beef, or she may flip.

 

easy, creamy homemade ricotta

I’ve come to realize that homemade is, in almost every instance, better than store-bought.  Sometimes, things take longer, but the time invested is worth it, especially if you enjoy spending it in the kitchen.  I had leftover milk and heavy cream from a batch of vanilla bean ice cream, and noticed a container of buttermilk in the fridge.  Not wanting anything to go to waste, I did some Google-ing, and set my heart on making ricotta cheese.  Best decision I’ve made in a long time.

DSC_0103-003

There are a bunch of different ricotta recipes out there, but they all use similar ingredients.  I improvised with what I had, and was pleased with the end result.  If you don’t have buttermilk, and are desperate, you can sour milk using fresh lemon juice {place 1 Tbsp lemon juice into a 1 cup measuring cup, top off with milk, stir and let sit for 5 minutes}.  But buttermilk is better.  Without further ado…

 DSC_0007

 

Materials (makes about 2 cups, adapted from In Jennie’s Kitchen & David Lebovitz)

4 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt

NOTE: I’ve also made this recipe using 3 cups milk and 2 cups heavy cream, with all else being the same, and the result was an even creamier ricotta.

 

Protocol
1. Line a fine mesh sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth, and place over a large bowl.  Set aside.

2. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a gentle (key word) boil.  The milk solids will begin to separate from the whey (liquid portion) within 20-30 minutes.  Continue to boil for another 5 minutes or so, until you see curdles floating on the top.  No need to stir at any point.

3. Remove from heat, and let sit for 30 minutes.  You can start draining immediately, but I noticed a slightly higher yield if ricotta is allowed to rest.

4. Gently ladle the curdles onto the cheesecloth.  Continue until all the curdles and whey have been transferred.

5. Allow to drain at room temperature for 20-30 minutes (any longer may not yield as creamy of a ricotta).  Pull together the ends of the cheesecloth and slowly squeeze any remaining liquid.  Immediately grab a spoon and taste the warm ricotta.  Then, transfer it to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until use.

DSC_0029

5

I’d love to tell you how long this will keep in the fridge, but every batch I’ve made so far hasn’t lasted more than two days.  Yes, it’s that good, and I have no shame.  K, thanks.  Bye.

rustic potato, herb & goat cheese pizza

The part of the world I’m from consumes a lot of bread and potatoes.  And sometimes, the bread and potatoes are in one dish.  It’s as comforting as it is calorie dense, but here, we need not stress over that.  I don’t often make meals that I know will put me in a coma, but sometimes, it’s more than necessary; like after a long day of redesigning the guest room floor plan.  It may sound like 100% fun, but it’s a lot of work making sure my decided upon mood board of grey, white and gold will equally appease both ends of the guest spectrum, which so far includes a high-maintenance girly girl, and a clean-cut, tattooed biker (Harley, not “fixie”), both of whom have expressed admiration of the crystal pendant chandelier.  That project will be completed soon, but for now, and for many reasons, I need a lot of comfort in my belly.  I hope you do too, because this pizza delivers.

 

 

Materials (makes one, thin crust 16-inch pizza)

1/2 pound dough, homemade or 1/2 of Trader Joe’s pre-made dough
3 medium yellow potatoes, sliced into ~1/4″ slices (does not need to be exact or perfect)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced into strips
3 Tbsp olive oil (2 for roasting potatoes, 1 for the pizza)
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded, optional
4 ounces goat cheese, roughly crumbled
1/2 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
coarse salt & pepper

 

 

 

Protocol
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Note: I used my small convection/toaster oven to cook the potatoes, and preheated my regular oven to 550 for the pizza.  Not imperative, but it simplified the process and saved time.

2. Place potatoes and onions in a sheet pan, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until potatoes are just cooked, but not soft and mushy.  Onions will be soft and translucent.

4. In the meantime, prepare dough.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into the shape of your pizza pan or stone (I used a 16-inch round pizza pan).

5. Lightly brush with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with shredded Mozzarella, if using.

6. Top with potatoes, and sprinkle with oregano and rosemary.

7. Bake pizza at 550 degrees F (or as high as your oven will go) for about 5-7 minutes, or until the edges brown.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with goat cheese, and return to oven.  Bake for another 3-5 minutes, or until desired crispness.

slices