Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ginger Chocolate Bark and Lavender Chocolate Bark

I am fairly picky about my sweets. If I'm going to eat a cupcake it better be a great, moist, dense cake with a lot of flavor topped in a buttercream that tastes more of butter than confectioners sugar, and even then, I usually remove most of the frosting. I'm not one for grocery store cupcakes, or sugary sheet cakes, and you won't find me eating a plain Hershey's bar any time soon.

When I was a young teen, growing up in Ohio supping on dry sheet cakes and overly sweet candy bars at birthday parties, I believed that I didn't really like cake or candy bars very much at all. It took me a while to understand that there was a difference between a Giant Eagle brand rainbow-frosted sheet cake, and a rich, moist, triple chocolate cake with chocolate ganache between the layers. Or, that there were Hershey's bars and Snickers bars, and then there were 70% cocoa dark chocolate bars with candied orange peel on top. I didn't dislike desserts, I disliked overly sweetened, poorly made desserts. 

When I first moved to the city, I lived on campus at the Fashion Institute, and during my second year I had a small kitchen in my dorm, which had a small refrigerator, in which I always had at least one exciting bit of chocolate. My favorites were a dark bar with cinnamon and spicy peppers, and a sweet-n-salty bar spiked with goji berries and pink sea salt. I preferred Vosges chocolates, which is not cheap stuff, so I would limit myself to two 1" squares of chocolate a night, taking tiny nibbles and letting the complex, spicy-sweet-salty-fruity bars melt in my mouth in chocolatey bliss. 

When I moved to a small city in Washington state to finish school all the convenience foods of Manhattan, bagel shops, juice places, fast food korean, boba, fancy chocolates, french macarons, were much harder to come by. Or, at least, they weren't within walking distance of my little house next to a goat and chicken farm and across the street from a forest. So I began to make desserts instead.

It started with cookies, but quickly evolved into lemon cakes and pineapple upside down cakes, to chocolate pies and blueberry crumble bars, coconut custard, lime squares, and foraged fruit crisps of every kind. But it wasn't until very recently that I started making chocolate bars. 

I can't believe how simple they are to make! I call these refrigerator chocolates, because you need to store them in the fridge to keep them from being as melty as a Reeses cup left in the car in July. They make a fantastic late night dessert nibble, every time I walk by the fridge I want to stop and grab another! I added cardamom to the cocoa powder to make a more complex bar base, and the little note of spice in the bar is absolutely lovely, and has a bit of an exotic taste.

I'm suggesting two different toppings for these slightly-healthier-than-most chocolate bars. One Paleo friendly option of dried lavender (which was absolutely lovely, if you've never tried lavender chocolate, now is the time!), and one slightly more sugary option of candied ginger, but you could top these in any number of things. Dried orange peel, slivered almonds, broken pretzel bits…. oh gosh, broken pretzel bits just sounds heavenly. I think I have to run out and get pretzels and make those asap! 

Chocolate Bark with Lavender or Ginger

Chocolate Bark:

1 C cocoa powder
1/2 C coconut oil
5 tbsp maple or honey
1.5 tsp cardamom


4 oz candied ginger
1tbsp lavender flowers

Line a small 6X6 or 6x8 pan with parchment paper or a silpat, set aside. Allow paper to come a bit up the sides, about 1 inch on each side.

Add coconut oil to a small sauce pan, over very low heat, and melt, then warm for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in honey or maple until well combined. Mix in the cocoa powder and cardamom, then whisk until mixture is glossy and shiny and cocoa powder is fully mixed in. Remove from heat.

Pour mixture into parchment lined pan and spread out into an even layer. Place entire pan into the freezer for 5-8 minutes.

Remove pan from freezer and top chocolate with a sprinkling of lavender flowers or candied ginger. Return pan to freezer for 45 minutes. 
After these have solidified, break or cut into desired sizes. Store in refrigerator. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Black Sesame Green Tea Cookie Sandwiches

So I took a little hiatus last week, and I wish I could tell you it was because I went on a really cool exotic vacation, or because I was assisting on a ton of food shoots, but unfortunately it is nothing so glamorous. I was absent last week due to a little camping mishap last weekend.

I was up early on last sunday morning, so I set about making myself a cup of tea on our camp stove, using our little backpacking pot. When the water boiled I took the lid off the pot and went to remove it from the stove, at which point I caught the bottom of the pot on the top of the stove and tipped the entire pot of boiling water straight down the front of my legs. Naturally, I screamed bloody murder, jumped over the picnic table bench I had been standing behind, and ripped off all my clothes from the waist down in the middle of a public camping ground. And then things got really ugly, which is also the right word to describe the current state of my thighs. 

Needless to say, I burned the heck out of myself. S sprung into action, pouring all of our remaining drinking water all over my legs, and making me cold compresses from the melting ice water in the cooler. Unfortunately for me, S does not know how to drive, so we were stuck there until I pulled myself together enough to pack my leg with bags of ice and drive back to Manhattan. Consequently I spent most of this last week going to the doctor, buying gauze, trying to figure out how to wrap the gauze so it doesn't all slowly slide back down my thighs, and sitting on the couch trying not to think about my legs and potential scarring. 

However, it was also S's birthday on Tuesday, and I wanted to make him something sweet. I had planned on making a matcha cheesecake with black sesame cream on top because S loves loves loves matcha, but my current limp and inability to bend over at the waist made cooking anything too labor intensive out of the question. 

Then I remembered I hadn't shared this black sesame cookie recipe with you after serving them at my creative meetup, and I knew they would be lovely paired with some green tea frosting. Sort of like an oreo, only much, much better. 

Typically when I make a recipe like this I try to find ways to reduce the amount of sugar, or to replace it with honey or maple syrup or dates, but I'm injured. I want comfort food. I want full fat, full-of-sugar buttercream frosting.  This is not one of my healthier, paleo-friendly dishes. There are three sticks of butter in this recipe. Three.

S loved these birthday cookies. I think their deliciousness helped him take in stride the blow of finding out there wasn't going to be a green tea cheesecake. Atleast not this week. There has been very little cooking besides these cookies this week. The cookies are definitely a bit addicting. Every time I walk by the fridge I tend to open it up and grab two, one for me, and one for S. 

The cookie base is based on an adapted recipe from Just One Cookbook, and I love them with the icing or even plain on their own. The original recipe calls for whole black sesame seeds, so if you can't find black sesame powder, you could definitely give it a whirl with whole seeds. I buy my black sesame powder at a Chinese grocery store in my neighborhood, but since every grocery store in my neighborhood is Chinese, I'm not sure how easy it is to source outside of this region. Whole black sesame seeds would work just fine though, and those can be bought at most grocery stores, in the spice aisle.

Black Sesame Green Tea Cookie Sandwiches

Black Sesame Cookies:

1 Stick Butter
1/3 C almond meal
1 C flour
2/3 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C black sesame powder
1 tsp almond extract
1 egg yolk
1-2 tbsp milk

Matcha Buttercream:

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 C confectioners sugar
1-2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp matcha powder
1/2 tsp almond extract
Cube the butter, then pop it in the fridge or freezer to stay firm while you prep the other ingredients.

In the bowl of a food processor (or in a medium sized mixing bowl), combine the flour, almond meal, sesame powder, sugar, and salt. Process until thoroughly combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and the almond extract, then process again, until the butter is well worked into the dry ingredients. The result will be a dry , crumbly mixture that will stick together if you mush it. 
Add the egg yolk and process one more time to combine. Dump the mixture out into a bowl and mix a bit more to help the dough come together. I find my dough is typically a bit dry (depending on how large my egg yolk was), and usually I need to add some milk. Add milk 1 tbsp at a time, mixing well to combine, until a dough forms that is still pretty dry, but which you can mold into a ball without it crumbling apart. Typically I add 2 tbsp of milk, 1 at a time. 
Form the dough into a ball, divide the ball in half, then place a sheet of plastic wrap on your workspace, and on top of it, form 1 half of the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge, repeat process with the 2nd log. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. 
If you're concerned about keeping your logs totally round to ensure the roundest cookies, take the dough out of the fridge after an hour or two and roll it again, gently, focusing on rolling out the flattened areas, then pop it back in the fridge. The trick is to do this quickly so the dough stays firm and doesn't re-flatten in the fridge.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F, remove 1 log of dough from the fridge at a time, then unwrap and slice dough into about 1/6" - 1/4" slices. Place on a parchment paper lined (or a buttered) cookie sheet, about 1/2" apart and back for 8-10 minutes, until they are just barely turning golden on the edges. Put any leftover dough log back in the fridge until it's time to slice and bake it.

While dough is baking make the buttercream. Place the softened butter into the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a large bowl, add 1/2 sugar and using your stand mixer, or an electric hand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until very creamy and smooth. Add the 2nd half of the sugar and beat again. Add the matcha powder, almond extract, and milk and beat again until totally smooth. 

Match up cookies into pairs by size and shape, then spread the bottom of 1 cookie with green tea frosting, and place another cookie (bottom side towards the frosting) on top. Refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour to firm up the icing, then serve fresh from the fridge. They are fine at room temp too, but the frosting is a bit softer and messier when not chilled, plus S and I sampled them fresh vs. chilled and agreed we liked them best chilled! 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cherry Ginger Cream Popsicles

So, I still have some recipes to share with you from my little creative meetup but I couldn't resist sharing this lovely recipe first. It's so delightful and complex tasting but so, so, so easy to throw together. You won't believe how sophisticated these pops taste after you put just 5 minutes of effort into assembling them. 

I love cherries. To be specific, I love tart cherries, the plump little beauties that make up cherry jam and cherry pie filling, and cherry clafoutis. If you've ever enjoyed a cherry baked good, it was most likely made from tart cherries. They're sour and juicy and a touch sweet, essentially the perfect fruit. 

In the summer, S and I like to go out to an orchard in New Jersey and pick a boatload of cherries to dehydrate, freeze, preserve, and otherwise enjoy throughout the year. We picked so many last year, that I made multiple cherry crisps this year in the dead of winter, and it was lovely. 

However, this was a hard, cold, long winter, and when it came to cherry season early last month, the orchards just weren't producing. The you-pick cherries were very sparse, and there were none to be found in the farmers markets or the aisles of Whole Foods. For the first time, I have had to buy cherry jam, and tart cherry frozen puree. It was heartbreaking for me. 

These popsicles are delicious, regardless of there not being any fresh tart cherries this year. The sharp, spicy ginger is a natural partner with the sweet/tart cherries, making a popsicle that is both sweet and just a little bit spicy. 

The yogurt adds a lovely, creamy note to the fruity pops and helps tame the gingery bite. Try to get a cherry jam with some sizable cherry chunks, getting a bite of two of pure fruit in your pop is lovely. I whipped these up in my Zoku making the whole process take less than 20 minutes from raw ingredients to the first bite. 

I love the spicy, tangy, gingery edge these have. It takes what is already a lovely, fruity pop and turns it into something grown up and a bit more complex. I want to make a joke about how I am a Ginger, and I love ginger, but I am 90% sure I have made that joke on this blog before.

The short ingredient list, and three step production process make these one of the simplest recipes I've ever posted, but the end product is decadent and delightful. I will definitely be making these again soon. Enjoy!

Cherry Ginger Cream Popsicles
1.5 C greek yogurt
4 tbsp honey
1/2 C cherry jam
2.5" piece of ginger
2 tbsp milk of choice

Grate the ginger using a microplane or other fine grater. 
Combine ginger, yogurt, milk, and honey in a medium sized bowl, stir well. 
Add jam to yogurt mixture and swirl or lightly stir, so jam combines with yogurt but doesn't mix entirely in. 

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. If using traditional molds, freeze for 4-6 hours. I used my Zoku, which took about ten minutes per pop. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brown Butter Blueberry Jam Bars

Today I'm bringing you another recipe from the super fun creative meetup I cohosted with Gilit of The Bannerie.  This week it's my Brown Butter Blueberry Jam Bars. They involve so many delicious things, brown sugar, brown butter, jam, and fresh blueberries.

I love jam bars. They're so easy to throw together, and because I always keep one of those industrial sized cardboard canisters of oats around, I almost always have all the ingredients to throw together some type of jam bar. I am all about the simple desserts.

After putting thirty minutes, or even an hour's worth of effort into making a weeknight dinner, the last thing I want to do is cook berries, cream butter, or whip egg whites. But I definitely do want dessert most (every) night, so it's jam bars to the rescue!

Jam bars are a close cousin to my other favorite super-simple dessert, fruit crisps, which are a staple of my winter dessert repertoire when the frigid weather calls for piping hot baked apple slices covered in oat streusel. But in the summer I like jam bars, which you eat only after they cool, and which are lovely made with summer fruits, like raspberry and blueberry. 

I took these jam bars a step further than usual by using brown butter. If you've never browned butter you have to try it. It takes just a few extra minutes of work and it's incredible all nutty and golden and toasty tasting. The five extra minutes browning the butter are more than worth the effort when you share these bars and amaze everyone with their deliciousness.

They have a fantastically crunchy crust and topping, and after cooling completely the jam will gel up and hold shape after being cut. I love that the crust and the topping are made together, saves time and bowl washing! The bit of cinnamon in the crust and topping adds a note of complexity which is really delightful.

These held up wonderfully being transported to the meetup, and stood up well to the midsummer heat, so they'd be a lovely choice for a cook out or potluck. I like to make these for dinner parties because they can be cooked the night before. Just try not to eat them all before serving!

Brown Butter Blueberry Jam Bars:

1 3/4 C quick oats
1 3/4 C flour
2 Sticks butter
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/3 C brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1 Cup blueberries
14 oz jam
2 tbsp flour

Preheat Oven to 350F.
Cut sticks of butter into 1 tbsp sized pieces and add to a heavy bottomed pan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep your eyes on the butter once it's melted, as it can go from melted to browned quickly. The butter will melt, turn clear, get foamy, then start to turn a rich golden brown and smell nutty. When butter begins to brown turn off heat and stir butter around a bit, then remove from heat. Set aside while preparing dry crust ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the crust, the oats, 1 3/4C flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Pour in the browned butter and stir until well incorporated. 

Press 2/3 of the crust mixture into a buttered 9x13 pan, making a crust of even thickness. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. 

While crust  bakes, in a medium bowl, combine jam, blueberries, and 2 tbsp flour. Stir well until combined. Pour over crust after baking, spread out into an even layer. Crumble the remaining 1/3 of the crust mixture over the top of the jam, lightly covering it. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until crust has browned thoroughly. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely  (for several hours) before cutting. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lime Sugar Cookies

This weekend I had the pleasure of co-hosting a creative meetup picnic with two wonderful gals, Gilit of The Bannerie, and Alicia of Liebeshouse. We had a bunch of creative ladies from the New York area,  fabulous decor by Gilit, and I prepared some of my favorite tasty snacks. 

Gilit really outdid herself on the picnic decor, with an adorable pink cake stand, a hand painted picnic blanket, and of course her wonderful banners. She even prepared gift bags with tiny personalized name banners for every guest that were so cute I could have died. 

There were flower crowns from A Golden Garden, which were super festive and looked fantastic on everyone. Everything was wonderfully cute, from the crowns to the cake stand, to the mason jars of lavender limeade, the lovely flowers Alicia put together, even the plates and napkins were adorable. 

I had been really wanting to partner up with some other bloggers and put together a little event in the city for a while, so after I did a shoot for Gilit's etsy store I pitched the idea that we could have a picnic gathering, and when she suggested we make it a creative meetup I was into that idea immediately.

We decided on a garden party themed picnic, and I prepared a plethora of finger foods both savory and sweet. I kept it all vegetarian which is friendly to more diets, and is much easier to manage than meat dishes. In keeping with our theme, I stuck with classic American flavors and styles, but I can never resist putting a little twist on everything.

Like lavender in the limeade and browned butter in the jam bar crust. Beet dip in lieu of hummus, and watermelon served with feta. I mixed in a few new dishes with a bunch of my classics and standards, like the lime sugar cookie recipe I'm sharing with you today, which I have been making for six years.  

The lavender limeade is also one of my go-to recipes, when I lived in Washington in college I loved to serve it at parties and potlucks, it made me feel very classy. Especially when made with sparkling water. 

The full menu included:
Finger Food:
Finger Sandwiches
Za'atar Beet Dip with Pita
Watermelon & Feta skewers
Fennel, Lemon, and Almond Tapenade on Crostini

Lime Sugar Cookies
Blueberry Oatmeal Jam Bars
Brown Butter rice crispy treats

Sparkling Water with citrus
Lavender Limeade

I'll be sharing nearly all the recipes broken up over the next few blog posts, along with more photos from the picnic. I thought I would start with the Lime Sugar Cookies because as mentioned, they are one of my favorite recipes to throw together. The recipe is modified from a recipe on a food blog that no longer exists, who had modified it from this Pinch My Salt recipe.

The cookies are light and fluffy with a lovely lime twist, and they melt in your mouth. They make a lovely housewarming gift, a wonderful addition to a potluck, and of course a fabulous dessert at a  summer picnic!

Lime Sugar Cookies
makes 30-40 cookies

1 1/2 C sugar
1 cup butter, (2 sticks) room temperature
2  eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Juice of 2 limes (use the ones you zested)
Zest of 1 lime
2 3/4 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda

Lime Sugar for coating:
1/2 C sugar
Zest of 2 limes

Begin with the lime coating sugar, combine the zest of two limes (I like to use my microphone as a zester, it's a godsend), with 1/2 C sugar in the bowl of your food processor, and pulse the processor several times until the zest is chopped up and well combined with the sugar. Pour into a bowl and set aside. 

For the dough, combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and mix well with a fork or whisk. 

In a separate bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar, using an electric mixer, or a fork and strong arms, until creamy and smooth. Beat in the lime juice, lime zest, and vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, beating well. 

Add the flour mixture, one cup at a time, with mixer set to a slow speed, or while mixing by hand, until flour is well incorporated. 

Refrigerate dough for 1 hour, or as long as you like. I refrigerated mine overnight and it worked great.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. 
Using a spoon, scoop dough and roll into balls with around a 1 inch diameter. Roll each ball in the lime coating sugar, then place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and use the bottom of a glass to press the ball into a little disk with a 1/3" thickness, keep atleast 1.5" between cookies to allow for spreading.
Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the edges just barely begin to turn golden. Allow to cool on tray for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cherry Berry Acai Bowl with Cashew Cream

About a year ago a new teeny-tiny restaurant opened about four blocks from my apartment, called Dimes. They serve classic, healthy american food, which is predominantly vegetarian, though they throw in some bacon or chicken here and there. There is a daily juice, a fantastic breakfast biscuit with avocado, bacon, and egg, and a fantastic black rice breakfast hash.

Dimes is also a bit of an anomaly, although its west-coast, laid-back vibe and healthy kale-heavy dishes are about as uncommon as seeing as a rat on the subway tracks in this city, here in Chinatown, it is the only place of its kind. Now, I love Chinatown, I love the $1-for-five dumpling spots, the fresh watermelon slushes, the tiny, warm, sweet Hong Kong cakes cooking in the sidewalk food carts, the mouth searing spicy tingly noodles. I could write odes, sonnets, perhaps even epic poems about my love of eating here. But every once in a while I want to mix it up. S used to tell me (due to my overconsumption) Man cannot live on dumplings alone. And those mornings when I wake up craving a healthy American breakfast cooked by someone-who-isn't-me, S and I head to Dimes.

My favorite breakfast at Dimes, especially in the summer, is an Acai bowl. A thick, rich smoothie topped with crunchy, crispy, creamy, and fruity toppings that you eat with a spoon, Acai bowls are wonderful. They're incredibly filling but only contain healthy ingredients. There isn't one thing in this whole recipe that is bad for you, yet it's so delicious and rich I would call it downright indulgent.

After noticing frozen packs of acai puree at Whole Foods I decided I would make my own acai bowl. I decided to go simple and fill it with raspberries and cherries, which are easy to find pre-frozen, but are also seasonal right now, so you could easily freeze your own, and banana, which always makes a fantastic thickener and smoothie base.

My mother always based our smoothies in banana when I was a kid, and I have a heard time imagining blending up fruit without at least one! Unless I'm making an avocado smoothie, avocado is also a great thickener and base, but has a totally different taste. The banana I bought fresh and froze myself by peeling and cutting it up and popping it in a ziplock then freezing it overnight. 

Never freeze a banana with the skin on. This piece of advice seems so obvious that I wouldn't bother bringing it up except that S has frozen bananas without removing their skin when I wasn't looking and it was disastrous. Mostly in that the skin was then unremovable and I'm pretty sure we had to throw the banana away. 

I topped my bowl with cashew cream, my new obsession. It's so creamy and sweet and thick. If you put it in the fridge it becomes so thick you could use it as frosting. At room temperature it's a bit like half-formed whip cream, or a slightly grainy creme fraiche in consistency. I also threw on some additional frozen raspberries, some of my honey chia granola, and some wild blueberries. 

The blueberries S and I picked while camping a few weekends ago in New Jersey. Did you know that New Jersey is absolutely full of blueberries? This is the second year in a row S and I have camped at the same campground packed with wild blueberry bushes. We go to this campground primarily to float down a small rooibos-tea-colored river that winds through the state park on inner tubes while drinking beers and stopping for swims at little rocky beaches. The blueberry bushes surround the campsites and cover the banks of the river, some are so large they lean out over the river, allowing a person on an inner tube to reach up, grab the branch to slow their float, then pick a handful of blueberries to munch on while they continue down the river. Basically, what I am saying, is that it is heaven. 

 I am sure one could devise many additional toppings for this, however. Blackberries would be lovely, and flax seeds, or some thin banana slices and a scattering of toasted hemp seeds. The Cashew cream adds this very decadent layer of creaminess that matches really well with crunchy toppings and tangy fruits. This is a wonderfully energizing breakfast, or a very healthy lunch option!

Smoothie Bowl
4oz frozen tart cherries
6oz Frozen raspberries
2 frozen bananas
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 pack frozen acai puree
1/2 C Coconut Milk

Cashew Cream
1 heaping C cashews (5.2 oz)
2/3 C coconut milk
2 tbsp honey

Toppings (optional)
Extra frozen berries
Fresh berries

Begin by making the cashew cream. In a food processor (or highspeed blender) combine the cashews, 2/3 C coconut milk, and the honey. Process on high speed for 3-4 minutes, until very smooth. Set aside.

In your blender (separate of the cashew cream), combine all other ingredients and process on high until smooth. Use the highest setting on your blender so it runs the minimal amount of time and does not heat up the ingredients as much. 

Scoop into two bowls, top with a dollop of cashew cream and a sprinkling of desired toppings. Serve immediately an enjoy!