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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

lemon buttermilk sorbet & raspberry coulis

With the warm season officially upon us, I no longer have to justify using an ice cream maker in the wintertime.  Not that I care, but I did get some peanut gallery style comments about making iced desserts when it’s 37 degrees out.  Let’s just shout “Welcome, Summer!,” shall we?

The inspiration for this sorbet came from a friend who gave me the rough ingredients and measurements.  I combined that information with a  seasoned sweet tooth, and the end result was just the right amount of sweet, tart, creamy and refreshing.  Take note– this sorbet is excellent alone, but a spoonful or two of raspberry coulis doesn’t hurt.

 

Materials (makes approximately 1.5 quarts)

For the sorbet:
4 cups full-fat buttermilk
1.5 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1 Tbsp vodka (I used vanilla Stoli), optional

 

For the raspberry coulis: (makes about 1 cup)
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp water
8 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed (fresh fruit can be used, but the amount would be different)

 

 

Protocol

Sorbet
1. In a food processor, pulse sugar and lemon zest a few times to release the oils from the rind.

2. Transfer lemon sugar to a medium bowl, and add buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla, if using.  Whisk until sugar dissolves.

3. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  About 5 minutes before the end of the cycle, add vodka.  It lowers the freezing point of the mixture and allows for a super creamy sorbet that won’t turn into a rock.

 

Raspberry coulis
1. In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by heating sugar and water until sugar dissolves completely.

2. Place raspberries and syrup into a small food processor or blender, and pulse a few times to purée.  If you don’t like seeds, strain coulis through a fine mesh strainer.

 

Happy Summer to you!

kitchen lab 101: freezing egg yolks

I recently learned that egg yolks can be frozen for later use.  It’s true, but they must be treated, and there’s science behind the reasoning.  Egg yolks contain water, which crystallizes when freezing.  This causes the proteins to cluster and congeal, creating tiny gelatinous clusters that don’t redissolve.  Adding a substance to lower the freezing point of the water (think anti-freeze) prevents crystal and, therefore, gelatinous protein blob formation.

To preserve yolks for a savory dish, lightly whisk 1/8 teaspoon of salt with ~4 yolks; for a sweet dish, lightly whisk 1.5 teaspoons of sugar or simple/corn syrup into ~4 yolks, and store in an airtight container.  Label container with the date, number of yolks and whether they contain salt or sugar.  To use, thaw yolks in the refrigerator overnight, and move to room temperature about 45 minutes prior to cooking.  Egg sizes vary, but 1 tablespoon is approximately equal to one yolk.

easy, no-bake energy bonbons

A recent craving led me to Pinterest, and after a 15 minute (OK, 1 hour) tangent, I came across an appetite-stimulating picture of these so-called energy balls.  The recipe called for peanut butter, oats and chocolate, which is cookie territory and always a welcomed treat, except there was no baking involved.  Instant gratification.  Sign.  Me.  Up!

 

These healthy bonbons, as I’ve renamed them, make a great snack, treat along the hiking trail, or even dessert.  They’re also super easy to make, if you can call it that.  Just throw all the ingredients together in a bowl, and stir.  Can you handle it?  The most time consuming part is shaping them into perfect spheres, so if you have a bit of OCD like I do, and you’re running low on patience, bars are an alternative.  I’m taking that route next time.

Out of curiosity (and because I like math), I calculated the calories.  Each heaping tablespoon-sized ball is worth about 85 calories, which is reasonable for how good they taste.  I offer no comment on how many I sampled during the mixing process, but I promise you can’t eat just one.

 

Stay tuned for adaptations with different nut butters, extracts, chopped nuts and dried fruit!

 

Materials (makes 30 balls, barely adapted from Daydream Kitchen)

1 cup dry oats (I used old fashioned)
1 cup finely shredded coconut
1/2 cup ground flaxseed (I ground the seeds in a coffee grinder)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup mini carob chips (or chocolate chips)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

 

Protocol

1. Using elbow grease or the classic hand mashing method, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.  This makes the mixture easier to shape.

2. Scoop using a tablespoon, and form into balls.  Bonbons will keep in an airtight container for up to a week, but mine didn’t last that long.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!

a stroll down memory lane & toasted “brown bread” ice cream

During grad school, my friend Melissa and I used to frequent an ice cream shop in Hollywood called Scoops.  It was our treat after a full day at work, and the agonizing 4-hour forensic microscopy class that followed.  Aside from the animated mornings at the morgue, and the multiple scoops of sweet, iced butterfat before bed, my days were dreadful.  Dread.  Full.  Dealing with a certain professor and the grades she handed out was supremely dreadful.  But, I digress.  I made it through.  All that’s ancient history now.

Tai, the owner of Scoops, is an artisan ice cream designer.  All of his ice creams are unique.  Banana Oreo, maple bacon (yes, I know it’s everywhere now), strawberry Riesling, pear and goat cheese, and Guinness tiramisu are just a few of his formulations.  Tai has a suggest-a-flavor board at the shop where patrons can write down suggestions, so presumably, some of what he makes is based on someone else’s munchie-powered idea.  Not important.  Flavors vary daily, but what remains his most popular scoop, is the brown bread ice cream– a sweet base with crunchy, spiced bits mixed throughout.  So so good.

It’s been years since I’ve felt the torment of grad school and joy of Scoops, and only one of those was worth experiencing again.  Hint: it has nothing to do with refractive indices or polarizing microscopes.  This treasure had to be shared.

Brown bread baby, it’s good to have you back!

Materials (makes 1.5 quarts, adapted from David Lebovitz)

For the ice cream:
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
6 egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp bourbon

 

For the brown bread:
1/3 cup grapenuts cereal
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Protocol

“Brown bread” crumbs
1. In a small skillet, melt butter and allow it to brown.  You don’t have to, but the nuttyness of it complements the bourbon.

2. Add cereal crumbs, sugar and cinnamon, and stir well to coat.  Cook for about 5 minutes, and set aside.  Store in an airtight container until ice cream is ready.

The brown bread crumbs can be made a day ahead or the day the ice cream is churned.  The first time I made this ice cream, I thought the cereal crumbs were just a bit too hard and crunchy, so I’ve since been soaking them in 1/3 cup water, and making sure all the water’s absorbed before mixing into the ice cream.

 

Ice cream
1. Combine milk, 1 cup cream, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and heat on medium-low heat.  Do not let boil.

2. Pour the other 1 cup cream into a bowl, add sour cream and set a fine mesh strainer over the top of the bowl.

3. In a second bowl, whisk the yolks.

4. Remove the milk mixture off the heat, and in a slow and steady stream, pour about a cup of the heated milk into the yolks, while whisking.  This is to temper the eggs so they’re not shocked and scrambled when they meet the rest of the milk.

5. Again, working slowly, pour the tempered eggs back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk, and return to low heat.  Stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, cook the custard until it coats the back of your chosen utensil.  Do not let boil.  Custard is cooked at about 175  degrees F, so if you’re using a culinary thermometer, don’t go over that.

6. Pour cooked custard over the strainer into the bowl containing the cream and sour cream bowl, add gently whisk until smooth.

7. Add vanilla and bourbon, and stir.  Allow ice cream base to cool in the refrigerator overnight, then process per ice cream maker’s manufacturer’s instructions.

8. About 5 minutes before the end of the churning process, add the “brown bread” crumbs.

Thanks, Tai for the great idea, the sweet memories and your contribution to my grad school “freshman 15.”

 

apple pie cream cheese tarts

For far longer than is acceptable, I had been neglecting a package of puff pastry, a bowl of sweet, red apples, and a precious jar of matcha powder.  My birthday was also approaching, and someone was gonna have to make a cake.  That someone, is yours truly.  So many projects, and only one of me.  Oh, the travesty.  I took inventory, picked up the missing ingredients at the market, and happily resigned my day to the kitchen.  Aside from the obvious perks a baking storm leaves behind, I had yet something else to look forward to.  And that’s cleaning the aftermath of the dance between flour, countless measuring spoons and spilled batter.  In the end, I had a face full of dessert, a kitchen towel in one hand, and a bottle of homemade cleaner in the other.  Pure joy.

Apple pie tarts were first on the agenda, and agreeably, the first to enter my belly.  Green tea ice cream and a fluffy, two-tiered vanilla birthday cake were also made that day, but I’ll get to them later.  Right now, let’s just agree that one of these flaky, buttery, reminiscent-of-apple-pie tarts covers your daily fruit intake recommendation.

 

Materials (makes 4 tarts)
1 package commercial puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
2 large sweet, red apples, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4 Tbsp. cream cheese, optional
1 egg, beaten

 

Protocol
1. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Melt butter in a medium skillet, add apples, sugar and spices, and stir well.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until apples have softened.

3. In the meantime, prepare your dough.  On a lightly floured surface, lay a sheet of dough, and cut it into four pieces.

4. Poke two of the squares with a fork (these will be the bottoms), and cut 3-5 slits in the other two (these will be the tops).

5. Repeat with the other sheet.

6. When the apples are ready, begin assembly.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat (or parchment paper), and place two bottom pieces on the mat.

7. Gently spread a tablespoon of cream cheese over each; then spoon a quarter of the cooked apples over the cream cheese.

8. Cover with a top piece of dough, press edges down with a fork, and brush liberally with egg wash to seal.

9. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

10. Garnish with powdered sugar, and devour shortly thereafter.

The tarts are amazing alone, but, just like their pie counterpart, pair well with vanilla ice cream.  Hold.  Me.  Back!  And to think this all started with an apple, which, itself, could be dessert.  It very well could, but not today, my friends.  Not today.

orange creamsicle martini

Orange you glad it’s the weekend?  Terrible, I know.  It’s related, so just relax.

Sometimes ideas come to me at odd hours.  Like, at 4 A.M. while I’m stepping into the kitchen for a drink of water.  And sometimes, insight dawns upon me when I’m in the mood for something a bit more fun than just a glass of water.  Like tonight.  The easy choice is always wine, but opening a bottle can be so much work.  I remembered that I have a bottle of cake flavored vodka in the freezer, but couldn’t think of any mixers.  Then I looked over at the fruit bowl and saw several luscious oranges.  And before I knew it, I was sipping on a cocktail that tasted like a 50-50 bar.

There are many ways to make an orange creamsicle cocktail, but this method is quick, easy and requires only two ingredients (one of which is not heavy cream).  I prefer to eat my calories, and if it tastes good, it tastes good, amirite?!

 

Materials (for 1 drink)

1 oz. cake, vanilla, or whipped cream flavored vodka
juice of 2 oranges (or about 4 oz. orange juice)

 

Protocol

1. Place vodka, orange juice and three or four ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, and shake around for a few seconds.

2. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with an orange slice.

This drink can also be enjoyed on the rocks.  Simply pour the vodka and juice over a few ice cubes, and stir.  No garnish necessary.  Lip smackin’ good!

Cheers to making the best of what you may have in your fruit bowl!

vanilla bean bourbon caramel sauce

Though I usually don’t adulterate ice cream, I somehow convinced myself that I need this caramel sauce.  The intimidation must’ve come from the few tablespoons of bourbon a recent day of Hot Toddy healing left behind.  Save it, it was a small bottle.  And by the way, in case of illness, an army of Hot Toddies is your ally.  It lets you sweat out the sick, take seven naps in two hours and forget that you can’t hear anything other than the aggressive whistle of the tea kettle.

Caramel sauce isn’t just for ice cream topping.  It’s for filling cupcakes, spiking frosting, swirling ice cream ribbons, and, if you’re watching your calories, dipping apples.  This jar o’ meltedsugarbutterohyeah reminds me of why I take power walks.

Water meets sugar.  Syrup meets cream.  Vanilla and bourbon crash the party.  Not much to it, but do practice patience, and forget that a watched pot never boils.  If you don’t watch, this pot not only boils, but it’ll make you regret the last 17 minutes of your life.  Watch it.  Then get on with the indulging.  It’s sweater season.

 

Materials (makes about a cup)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pats, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split, cut and scraped
1 tablespoon bourbon

 

Protocol
1. Heat water and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and allow to simmer on medium-low heat for about 18-21 minutes.  Don’t stir or whisk, but if you must, you can gently swirl.

2. After 15-20 minutes, the sugar will morph into a hardened, crystallized mass, but don’t worry.  Within a minute or so, it will melt back into a golden syrup that will shortly turn amber.

3. Lower the heat, and slowly and carefully pour in the cream (be careful: mixture will bubble and create a scalding steam).  Whisk until smooth.

4. Remove saucepan from heat, add butter, vanilla bean seeds and bourbon, and whisk to combine.

A few notes:

  1. Make sure you have a dedicated 25 minutes to this process.  It’s not all active time, but the sauce goes from ideal color and temperature to burnt in seconds.
  2. Have the cream measured out and ready to pour.  At this step, there’s no time to waste looking for anything.
  3. Because of the cream, this caramel sauce can’t be canned.  However, it does keep well in the fridge for about a week.
  4. Sugar will slightly crystallize at refrigeration, so just warm the sauce before use and it will return to its original smooth texture.