Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lady Grey Custard with Lavender Cream

Lavender. It's my favorite color, flower, smell, and flavor. How many other words even encompass all of those different senses in one? I'm not really sure when I fell into my love affair with the dusty-colored plant, probably sometime shortly after my decade long childhood tomboy phase. 

I love the color of lavender blossoms, like sun-bleached, time-aged purple. I even love the color of lavender stems, the way the green also looks a little faded and slightly grey. And of course the scent is heavenly, like a field of flowers in springtime, but the flavor is more of an acquired taste.

The first lavender desserts I ever made were lavender-lime sugar cookies, and it seemed everyone who tried them either 
A) loved them and swore they were the best cookie they'd ever tried.
B) Didn't like them, but suspected they would like them without the lavender.

I love the taste of lavender, light and floral and complex, but even I've tried a candy or baked good or two purporting itself to be lavender flavored, only to find it tasted more like soap. However, I can assure you this pudding doesn't have even the lightest note of soap. The Earl Grey tea really helps to balance the light floral notes of the lavender, and the dark chocolate tempers it further. 

Lady Grey tea is a toned down version of Earl Grey, the bergamot is less strong, and additional flavors are added, like lemon and cornflower. My favorite variations of Lady Grey, however, involve a touch of lavender. The light floral note compliments the dark, earthy tea perfectly. 

To emulate the taste of Lady Grey tea but keep the strength of the tea flavor, I added lavender to the more potent Earl Grey. The tea and flower combo needed to be strong to keep from being drowned out by the chocolate. 

The lavender whipped cream is the powerhouse of lavender flavor in this dessert, the lavender really comes through clean in the heavy cream, and the combo reminds me of the lavender bushes behind my old home in Washington. 

One year there was a blizzard, an uncommon occurrence in Western Washington, and the next morning just the very tops of the garden plants were sticking out from under the snow. Little stalks of lavender poked through the snow, their defiant little purple heads popping out of the perfect whiteness, a jot of color in a white landscape. The whipped cream is like that, a little streak of clean, crisp floral peeking through the light creaminess.

This is one of my favorite custard bases, and I use it in a myriad of desserts, including my Dulce de Leche Dark Chocolate Pie. It thickens up a bit more than most puddings, and if left in the fridge more than a few hours, you end up with a thick, scoopable fudge-y pudding, which I find totally delightful.

If you're not a dark chocolate fan, I am sure you could use milk chocolate chips or bars as well. The result would probably be ultra-creamy from the milk mixing with the creamy milk chocolate, which might be nice. I'm not a milk chocolate fan myself, so you won't catch me trying it, but I bet it would work nicely. 

These make an excellent any-day dessert, but could also be great as dessert at a dinner party, or served in smaller bowls on a dessert buffet (they're pretty sturdy and won't get soft if set out for a while). I popped mine in these jars so I could put lids on them and send them to work with S and me, but then we ate them all before I could send one anywhere. They were just too good!

Lady Grey Custard
Makes approx 4  4.5 oz servings

1 1/4 Cup milk
10 tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks
10 oz dark chocolate, chopped
pinch salt
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp lavender
2 Earl Grey tea bags

Lavender Whipped Cream

1 Cup heavy cream
1/2 C sugar
1 tbsp lavender

Lady Grey Custard

Begin by pouring the milk in a small saucepan and placing over very very low heat, let it warm, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly simmering, be careful to heat it slow and low and stir it to avoid scalding. When the milk begins to simmer, add the tea contents of two Earl Grey teabags and the lavender. As long as you have a fine mesh sieve you can add the contents loose, otherwise consider leaving the tea in bags, and place the lavender in a tea ball. Continue to heat for a moment or two, without allowing the milk to boil, then remove from heat and allow the tea and lavender to infuse for 10-12 minutes.
After the lavender and tea has infused the milk, strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve. I did this with my french press. I let the milk infuse in there, and then I sieved it out through the french press sieve. Return the infused milk to the saucepan

Separate your egg yolks and whites, discard the whites and place the yolks in a small bowl. Beat lightly then set aside. 

Return milk saucepan to a slightly higher, but still low heat. Add the sugar to the milk and stir until sugar is entirely dissolved and milk is steaming, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Slowly add a small amount of the milk to the egg yolks while rapidly whisking, add a bit more, still whisking, until the egg yolks are slightly thinned. Then, while whisking the milk mixture, slowly and steadily pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan. Keep whisking. Return to low heat, and whisk continuously until the mixture thickens a bit, which if your temperature is nice and low for even pudding cooking, will take 4-6 minutes. Don't let it thicken too much, the chocolate will greatly thicken the pudding. 

Once slightly thickened, remove the pudding from heat and add the chopped chocolate, whisking until it all melts and a thick, hot pudding is formed. Add the pinch of salt and mix in the butter until fully melted and incorporated.

Dish pudding out into bowls. I was able to make 4 4.5oz jars full, and had a few tablespoons leftover to eat out of the saucepan. 
Chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, but up to 1-2 hours. You can leave the custard in the fridge longer but it will thicken up some more, and become like a scoopable fudge. Which, frankly, I also love. 

Whipped Cream

While the custard chills, place a 1/2 C sugar and 1 tbsp lavender in a food processor and process until the lavender is chopped up fine and well mixed with the sugar. About 2-3 minutes. Pour lavender sugar into a small bowl. 

Add 1 C cream to a medium mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, and 3-4 Tbsp of the lavender sugar, depending on how sweet you like your cream. Mix with a hand mixer or stand mixer on medium-high speed, until slightly stiff peaks form and whipped cream has reached desired thickness, about 2-3 minutes on my Kitchenaid.
Serve whipped cream dolloped on top of your ramekins of custard and enjoy. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Brussels Sprout and Prosciutto French Bread Pizza

Brussels Sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables. My parents never cooked them when I was growing up, and I seem to remember there used to be a bit of a stigma about brussels sprouts in general, they're definitely the type of food cartoons and kids tv shows would portray as gross, inedible adult food. Which is completely opposite their current reputation as a very popular and tasty vegetable, perhaps even a hip one. I saw a recipe for a brussels sprout salad in GQ once, so they must be cool(?).

I prepare my brussels lots of ways, roasted whole and tossed with balsamic reduction, sliced thin and wilted with lemon juice in a skillet, shredded, fried and tossed with wheat berries, but one fantastic, stand out, totally awesome way to eat brussels sprouts is on pizza. 

I'm not afraid to admit I was introduced to the concept of brussels on pizza by two preteen gals I know. Their favorite pizza to order in is the Brussels Sprout pizza from Motorino, the first time I tried a slice I knew I had to recreate it, with a few changes.

When I make it as a normal pizza, I use Jim Laheys no-knead dough recipe, but the other day I had a craving for this pizza, and no dough. I could've made dough, but pizza dough needs to rise and my craving for brussels sprout pizza was strong. My stomach gets very impatient.

So I grabbed a few mini baguettes and made these for dinner. Ok, fine, I made one for myself for lunch, and then I made them again for dinner because they were that good. 

I hadn't eaten a french bread pizza in years, and I forgot how amazing they are. The way the edges get all crisp but once you crunch past that french bread crust and toasty edges the inside is all soft-as-a-cloud bread and steamy air pockets. The melty cheese clinging to the toppings, browning as it clings to the crust of the bread. Yum. Why haven't I made a million versions of this?

French bread pizza was a delicious, and fairly uncommon treat in my house growing up. We stuck with the traditional, red sauce, mozzarella, maybe some pepperoni. Twelve minutes in the oven and it was a bubbly, cheesy, messy treat. 

The classic french bread pizza is great, but this is better. I like that it's not too messy to eat, and the bread remains more intact when it's not covered in wet sauce. The brussels and prosciutto make a zippy, savory, really interesting combination, the onions are sweet and soft, and the Romano perfectly rounds it all out. 

I could eat these at any meal. They make a great stand alone lunch, are a delightful accompaniment to some marinara covered spaghetti, and would be great served alongside a frittata for brunch. They're best fresh and warm, but if you have any leftover you can wrap them up, pop them in the fridge, then when you want to eat it, simply drizzle with a bit of olive oil and reheat in a preheated 425 degree oven for 5-8 minutes. 

Brussels Sprout and Prosciutto French Bread Pizza

2 Mini Baguettes or 1 Full Baguette
.75 lbs brussels sprouts
1/3 lb mozzarella cheese
1 med onion
1/4 lb prosciutto
4-5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp  balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic 
Romano cheese for grating on top
salt and pepper

Preheat the over to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Start by caramelizing the onion. Cut it in half, then slice thinly. Pour about 1 tbsp olive oil into a small pan and add onions, cook over low heat until the onions are all transparent and beginning to lightly brown, about 10 minutes, then add the balsamic vinegar and stir well, cook another 2-4 minutes, until the onions fully absorb the vinegar and all soft, brown, and beginning to be jelly-like. Remove from heat, and set aside.

Finely chop garlic or press with a garlic press, and add to 3 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Mix, then set aside to infuse.

Cut the ends off your brussels sprouts, and chop them roughly, pull some apart into leaves, chop some large and some small, you want lots of different brussels sizes and textures going on. Set aside chopped brussels. 

Cut the prosciutto into bite sized bits and set aside. Grate the mozzarella. 
Slice the baguettes lengthwise to produce two pizzas from each baguette. If using a full size baguette, cut baguette down the middle prior to slicing into the two pizzas, to produce 4 pizzas.

Brush the bread with some of the olive oil and garlic mixture, top with the grated mozzarella, then the caramelized onions, brussels sprouts, and prosciutto. Add a hearty grating of Romano cheese on top, and a light drizzle of the olive oil and garlic. Grate a bit of black pepper over top and a toss on a sprinkle of salt.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the brussels sprouts are lightly browned on the edges. Remove for oven, cut in half and enjoy warm. Yum!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Date Sweetened Chocolate Raspberry Valentines Cookies

I like Valentines Day, which, which some websites could make you think isn't a super popular opinion in our day and age, but the truth is I like most holidays that involve some celebration. I like giving gifts, making people cards, and baking- which are three popular Valentines activities, so it works out well for me.

Even when single I enjoy Valentines Day because there are always loads of Gal-entines and Anti-Valentines parties to attend, and those usually call for baking too. Nothing soothes a lonely heart quite like dark chocolate. 

One Valentines day in college, when I was single, a good (male) friend came up to me and my best friend at a party, and told us, very sincerely and sweetly that he hoped we weren't sad we were single on Valentines day because we were fantastic, smart, funny, kind, beautiful ladies inside and out. 

It was sweet, but being sad hadn't occurred to me. I was at a party, wearing a sweet dress covered in hearts, drinking cheap strawberry champagne directly from the bottle. I had rhinestones glued to my face, hot pink tights on, and was feeling pretty festive.  It was a good Valentines Day. 

I wanted to make Valentines cookies for you, partly because cookies make fantastic Valentines, and partly because my mother gave me heart shaped cookie cutters for Christmas and I had been saving them for just this occasion. 

But of course, it's primarily S who gets to eat these cookies, so I decided to make a cookie version of my chocolate date cake, as we both really loved that cake. When I made the cake I used pretty roughly ground almonds in place of almond flour, but this time I decided to go all out and make a nice fine almond flour.

I love trying new things, learning by experiencing, especially in the kitchen. So I did some research on making almond flour, and then I ignored all the longer recipes requiring dehydrating or roasting the nuts, and instead I dumped the almonds in my food processor and pulsed it about a billion times, then sifted what remained and poof, silky smooth, soft, fine almond flour. Also, it was about 1/2 the price of buying it!

Maple sweetened jam was also a first for me. I went through a jam-making kick back in college, and made a lot of blueberry and blackberry jams in my Evergreen dorm kitchen, using foraged berries. My first foray into jam was local blueberries, but I was paranoid that I would under cook it, and consequently over cooked it by so much that when it cooled it was a solid block of jelly, thicker even than canned cranberry sauce.

My ex dumped it out on our counter and it stood up like a jelly mold, wiggling defiantly, announcing my failure. He sliced a piece off, ate it, and declared it delicious. 
"It's like a fruit roll up!" he announced. 
I was so bummed after all that time cooking, I never over cooked another jar of jam again. So naturally, pectin free, old fashioned jam like this appealed to me. It's probably pretty hard to over cook this jam, but sweetening with a liquid like maple and omitting pectin does mean it takes a long time to cook down and thicken up. 

These cookies are gluten and sugar free, making them Paleo friendly, and they are optionally vegan. I've made them both ways, with milk and butter, or with coconut milk and coconut butter (which is the version photographed here), and I don't have much of a preference as they were both incredible. If I had to pick, I would probably choose the vegan ones because I love love love coconut, and the little bit of flavor it adds is delicious. But I wouldn't run out to buy coconut butter for that reason alone, you can totally use normal butter, or even almond butter instead.

The cookie bit is an adaptation of this recipe, so they would also work with rice flour, if you don't have any almond flour on hand. You could probably even say these cookies are healthy. After all, there isn't even much coconut butter in them, they're almost entirely made of dates, almonds, and chocolate! They are definitely delectable though, rich and decadent, deeply chocolatey, with note of caramel from the dates, and sweet maple kissed berries in the filling.

Chocolate Raspberry Valentine Cookies
makes approx. 2 dozen sandwich cookies


1 1/2 C dates (about 6 oz)
3/4 Almond Flour plus extra for rolling out (directions for homemade almond flour at bottom of page)
1/3 C cocoa powder
3 tbsp coconut milk (or almond, or cow milk)
2.5 tbsp soft coconut butter (or regular butter, or almond butter)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder


3 C raspberries
2/3 C honey or maple
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Jam Filling

I made my jam filling a day ahead, but you could do it the day of. Feel free to replace this jam with any type you prefer, homemade or store bought, though other jams may not firm up as well in the cookie.
Place raspberries in a medium saucepan and crush them a bit with a fork or a wooden spoon. Turn heat to medium low. Stir often.

Once the raspberries have broken down to a liquid-y mush, let them cook down for 7-10 minutes, then add the maple syrup. Stir well. Continue to cook over medium low heat, stirring every few minutes, for 35-45 minutes, or until jam thickens. Since this jam is for filling cookies we want it a bit thicker then usual.

I took mine off heat when I could run a wood spoon through it and the jam took a second or two to fill in the trail the spoon left. It'll be noticeably thick, but remember it will thicken a bit more in the fridge. This being a pectin free jam though, it's pretty hard to make it too thick. Once thickened to your liking, add the lemon juice and stir well.
Let the jam cool a bit, then fill a jar and put it in a cool place. my recipe produced about 1 1/2 Cups of jam, and the cookies needed about 1 Cup.


Whisk together almond flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Set aside. Place dates in the bowl of a food processor, and add coconut butter, coconut milk, and vanilla- blend until a fairly smooth paste forms, 3-4 minutes. 

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet in the food processor, pulsing the food processor a few times between each addition. Once all dry ingredients have been added and just barely mixed in, remove dough from the food processor and place in bowl.

Knead the dough a bit, and if it's too sticky add more almond flour, if it's too dry, add a bit more milk. Once you get a dough you can work with without it getting stuck all over your fingers, divide it into four equal balls and pop them in the fridge for about ten minutes.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit while dough chills.

Remove one dough ball from the fridge, and lightly dust your countertop with almond flour. Using hands (it'll stick to a roller, so use your hands), press dough out into a thin sheet, about 1/4 inch thick, taking care to turn it over and flour the surface often to prevent sticking. Using a cookie cutter, cut your desired shapes out of the dough and place on either a greased cookie sheet, or one covered in parchment paper. Continue with other dough balls. Cookies can be pretty close together on the cookie sheet, 1/3 inch apart should be fine. They won't puff or spread practically at all.

Bake 15 minutes. When they first come out of the oven they will seem soft, but they'll firm up a bit as they cool.

After cookies have cooled, spread half of them with jam and top with a second cookie. If allowed to sit at room temperature for an hour or two, the jam will firm up a bit, making them easy to travel with. You can go thick or thin with the jam, thick ones may leak a bit initially, but will be fine once the jam sets up a bit. 

DIY Almond Flour

Place almonds in a food processor, for this recipe I used about 1/2 lb and had enough for the dough and dusting the counter top, pulse the mixer, letting it stop completely in between every pulse. Check on the mixture often to make sure it's not getting too oily- if it gets oily you're running the processor to long, do shorter pulses. 
Once some of the mixture begins to resemble flour, sift the nuts through a fine mesh strainer and collect the flour in a bowl below. Return big nut pieces to the processor and continue pulsing. Sift the flour out with the strainer every few minutes until you have enough. 
At the end of my process I had about 1 1/2 Cups of flour and 1/3 Cup chopped almonds bits that had gotten too oily to continue processing- I mixed some of these in with my dough for crunchiness.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Brown Butter Biscoff Blondies

Cookie Butter. Speculoos. Biscoff Spread. Whatever you call this delightful, creamy, gingerbread-y spread, it's incredible. A peanut-butter-like spread made almost entirely from cookies? Yes please. And when you team it up with nutty, complex brown butter? And then throw some peanut butter and chocolate chips in there? Down right gluttonous. Definitely sinful. And completely delightful.

I made these Saturday, intending them to be a treat for S and I for dessert, and to take to work on Monday, but while they were in the oven S's friend invited us to a Superbowl Party, and I figured it was dessert destiny. These bars are definitely decadent enough to hold their own in a Superbowl spread.

The truth is, S and I both don't care about football. I'm from Cleveland, we colloquially call our stadium the Factory of Sadness. Don't get me wrong, lots of people still love football, and the Browns, I just always found it hard to get enthused about a sport my own city was terrible at. I enjoyed high school football, although mostly just for the parties afterwards. S's high school didn't even have football, and he's not interested in it. We're both baseball people. 

I decided I would root for the Seahawks because I lived in the Northwest for a while and have a strong allegiance to all things Washington related. That seemed like a good enough reason to pick a team. When we arrived at the party we discovered we were the only Seahawks supporters there, but everyone else took their loss in stride. Cookie butter bars helped ease their pain. 

New York can be a funny place. The party was at a friend's apartment in a high rise in Long Island City, surrounded by other high rises. He has a balcony with a spectacular view, and not being football fans, S and I stepped out there a few times to take in the view and get a breath of fresh air. All around we could see other people in other buildings watching the game on their flat screens, and from time to time a sudden cheer would split the air, coming from apartments in the buildings around us, the roof deck across the way, and the sidewalks below. Like surround sound excitement. 

When an occasion comes along that is celebrated by a majority, or even a large minority of New Yorkers, things can get very festive. Imagine every really drunk guy you've ever seen get overly enthusiastic about a holiday, or sports game, or anything really. That guy who takes the Christmas party drinking way too far. Who shows up with Christmas ornaments dangling from his ears and an elf hat, but by the end of the night is wearing Santa's pants and boots with no shirt. The guy who keeps bear hugging everyone and slurring through the lyrics to All I Want for Christmas. Now imagine you're in a crowded subway car with 20 of those guys, after their team lost a big football game. That's what a festive night in New York can be like. 

On the walk back to the subway after the game we heard a pack of women cheering and screaming. I'm referring to them as a pack because I couldn't see them, but judging from their screams they numbered at least ten. It sounded like they were cheering and screaming whilst running too, furthering my imagining that they were a pack of women, bounding along like wolves, leaping up to howl at the moon because the Seahawks won?
"I bet that's what it's like here every Sunday." S said. 
In Chinatown no one cheers about anything in the street, except the New Year. Speaking of which, Happy Year of the Horse!

These bars were incredible. Seriously, the crunchy, crumbly oat bits, the nutty, complex brown butter, the peanut butter and chocolate chips! The drizzled topping! Ugh, it was all great. 

These would make a fantastic Valentines treat for anyone who likes cookie butter, peanut butter, chocolate, or all things decadent and wonderful. You could even draw little peanut butter and chocolate hearts all over the top with the drizzle. 

If you let these cool fully after topping them the chocolate and peanut butter will firm up and the bars will travel well, but if you're not too worried about aesthetics then I recommend you eat some while they're still warm. I ate the one photographed below after taking this photo and it was incredible. The melty chocolate and peanut butter chips! The crisp oats! Absolutely heavenly.

Brown Butter Biscoff Blondies

1/2 Cup brown butter
3/4 Cup Cookie Butter
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp almond extract
3/4 flour
2 cups oats
1 /12 tsp baking p
1 C choco chips
1 C peanut butter chips
1 tsp coconut oil
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit
Cut butter into chunks and place in a frying pan over low heat, until butter is melted. Mix occasionally, once melted, keep your eye on the butter and mix it from time to time as it continues to cook. After about five minutes the butter will begin to smell nutty and delicious, and there will be little brown particles in the butter, when this happens remove the butter from heat immediately as it will continue to brown on it's own for a moment. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a medium bowl combine flour, oats, baking powder, and salt, whisk until well combined, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the brown sugar and browned butter. Mix on a medium speed until fully combined, about 3 minutes. Add the cookie butter and mix again, then add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth. 

Add the dry ingredients in stages, mixing between each addition, until fully combined. Fold in 1/2 C chocolate chips, and 1/2 C peanut butter chips. Mixture should be a bunch of little clumps of dough.

Grease a rectangular pan and pour the dough mixture in, smooth it out and press it down with your fingers until it covers the pan, forming a solid bar. Don't leave it as a bunch of loose crumblies, smoosh them together and make a cake out of them. 

Bake for 35-45 Minutes. 

Once out of the oven, set on a rack to cool, and make the topping.

In a double boiler, or a heat proof bowl placed in a pot of simmering water, melt a 1/2 C chocolate chips. Heat over low heat and mix until fully melted. Using a spoon, butter knife, pastry bag (with a teeny tiny nozzle), or a zip lock with the very tip of the corner cut off (I did this), drizzle the melty chocolate all over the bar. 

In another heat proof bowl, place 1/2 C peanut butter chips and set over lightly simmering water, mix until well melted. If they aren't melting into a liquid (mine were more like a paste), add the 1 tsp coconut oil and mix well, this should thin it out, and coconut oil will re-solidify easily. Place in pastry bag, ziploc with cut corner, or use a spoon to drizzle over top of the chocolate swirls. 

Set aside to cool, chocolate and peanut butter will firm up in a few hours, but they're delicious before fully hardened too!