Lemon Ricotta Bars

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I went on a baking/food styling spree 4th of July weekend (see my mini blueberry pie post) and finally got around to making these lemon ricotta bars I had been eyeing from Food52.  If you don’t already follow them (via email, Facebook, instagram, etc.) I highly recommend you do!  They have tons of fantastic, but simple, recipes as well as beautiful photos and a wonderful selection of kitchen goods/accessories.

I love lemon bars and I love ricotta cheese so it only seemed natural to put them together.  The ricotta cheese gave the lemon bars a lighter and fluffier texture than normal lemon bars and made for a tangy yet refreshing summer treat.  I brought them into the hospital for my hardworking team and they ate them up pretty quickly!

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I’ve been practicing my food styling from my food photography class with Betty Liu and Cottage Farm so I got a little creative with the photo set ups for this recipe.  Some of the tips I employed for this shoot was styling using remnants of ingredients (like the juiced lemon rinds and egg shells) and using cheese cloth to add simple texture to the backdrop.  One of my favorite things about these photos is the oyster shaped ceramic plate made by Ae ceramics in Maine that I picked up the the Portland Trading Co. in Portland, Maine.  I am a little obsessed with this plate which may look familiar to you if you have ever dined at Eventide Oyster Co., also in Portland, Maine.  I am planning to add to my collection next time I am in Portland!

Lemon Ricotta Bars (from Food52)

  For the Crust

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1-inch pieces, slightly softened plus extra for greasing pan
For Lemon-Ricotta Filling

  • 8oz (1 cup) fresh whole milk Ricotta, drained
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/3cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

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  1. To make the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a pastry brush, lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment paper. Butter paper, then lay second sheet crosswise over it.
  3. Pulse flour, confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and salt in food processor.
  4. Add butter and process to blend; then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal.
  5. Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and, press firmly with fingers into even layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, and then bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  7. To make the filling: Whisk ricotta, eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, and salt to blend well.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
  9. Stir filling mixture before pouring into warm crust.
  10. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 30 minutes.
  11. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 2 hours.
  12. Transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts.
  13. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

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Food Photography Workshop with Cottage Farm and Betty Liu

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Last month I FINALLY got to take a food photography workshop with my favorite food blogger, Betty Liu!!!!  She was a guest host with Krissy O’Shea from Cottage Farm for a one day workshop in Boston.  I was re-entering surgical residency the next day but decided to spring for one more day of fun before going back!  The workshop started with a private dinner at Loyal Nine the night before where we were served a special menu of savory pea pancakes, reminiscent of scallion pancakes, topped with grilled freshly harvested peas and, baked cheese with rhubarb and homemade crackers, delicious roasted chicken paired with balsamic glazed onion and fresh peas, and finally to end the night, strawberry rhubarb pie…all of course washed down by a refreshingly crisp French white wine.

The next morning we were off to an early start at Warehouse XI in Union Square.  Luckily we had some coffee from No Six Depot along with buttery croissants from Forge Bakery and fresh berries, yogurt, and homemade granola by Betty to get us caffeinated and started.  And of course we snagged a few photos of the breakfast set up🙂.

After breakfast, we quickly got to work learning camera and composition basics with a brief lecture from Betty and Krissy before starting to learn the basics of food styling.  We used natural light and they really pushed us to take advantage of different lighting scenarios like using darker lighting for some moodier shots while using bright spaces near the window for sunny breakfast shots.  The first scene we shot was mostly from a top down approach- actually setting up the scene on the ground! Genius for anyone who is short with back problems- sure beats balancing on a high chair to lean over and photograph!  Krissy set up the scene with breakfast remnants, demonstrating how to add in little touches (like crumbs) but at the same time not making it look overstyled.

Next we practiced some action shots from the side of Betty and Krissy pouring coffee (we maybe drank a little more too).

From coffee we moved on to my favorite…cheese!!!! We had sooooo much cheese donated by Vermont Creamery but I was tortured momentarily when I had to wait to dive in so we could practice some food styling!  Betty and Krissy set up a beautiful table spread of cheese, honey, bread, flowers, and little utensils.  Then we all took turns photographing the scene from the side and up top on a ladder…and then finally it was time to dig in!!!!!

Of course after cheese there was more eating with some delicious salads prepared by Krissy for lunch.  Check out the beautiful rye berry salad recipe by Krissy on her blog.

Following lunch we were all in a food coma but there was no time for rest…it was time to practice what we learned!  We broke off into groups to create our own food setups to photograph.  I think we did a great job (and had great teachers!)!

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After all our hard work, it was time for some relaxation and cocktails made by Nic Korn, a local mixologist.  He made delicious aperol spritzes and cocktails with mint and gin.  I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos of the beautiful drinks!

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We finished with a brief tutorial on post-production editing in Lightroom and I picked up a few tips from Betty- including how to add my own filter which you see featured here!   Thank you to Krissy and Betty for an incredible and educational workshop!  I left the workshop with a new arsenal of photography, food styling, and editing skills and met some great people I home to stay in touch with!

 

Mini Cardamom Blueberry Pies

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Last week I re-entered surgical residency full time after a 2 year “research break”.  It was an abrupt transition going from ~40 hours a week, mostly at a desk, to over 80 hours at the hospital last week running around and operating.  By the end of the week I was exhausted!!!  But luckily I had the whole 4th of July weekend off to relax so I decided to recharge with a little baking and food photography.

Several weeks ago I took a one day food photography workshop with my food blog idol, Betty Liu, and Krissy O’Shea from Cottage Farm.  The workshop was amazing and I learned so many new tips and techniques for food styling-who knew crumbs were such a great styling prop?  Here are a few of my favorites from the workshop:

I was eager to test out my new food styling skills on my own so after a quick trip to Home Goods for some new props, I got down to work this weekend.  And what else to make for the 4th of July than pie???  Correction…mini pies??? (I think I have previously confessed my love for all foods that are miniature.)  I decided to go with blueberry pie and mixed it up a touch by adding cardamom and cinnamon…and then I got super patriotic by cutting out stars and stripes to decorate the pies.  The results were adorable and delicious!  Hope you all had a great 4th of July.  Feel free to comment below and tell me what you made!

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Mini Cardamom Blueberry Pies

Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 tablespoons (about) ice water

Cardamom Blueberry filling:

3 cups blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp lemon zest
2 1/2 tablespoon water (divided)
10 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 tablespoon corn starch

1 egg, beaten
Sugar for sprinkling

For the crust: Mix flour, sugar,  and salt in processor. Add butter; pulse until coarse meal forms. Gradually blend in enough ice water to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Form dough into 2 balls; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; chill 2 hours or overnight.

For the filling: Add blueberries, sugar, lemon, 1 Tbs water, cardamom pods (make sure to count how many you add so you know how many to retrieve later!), and cinnamon stick to a medium saucepan. Alternatively, you can place cardamom and cinnamon stick in cheesecloth for easier retrieval. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture breaks down and starts to liquefy, about 7-10 minutes. Carefully remove and discard all 10 cardamom pods and cinnamon stick- you may want to use a utensil so you don’t burn yourself!.  Mix corn starch and remaining 1.5 Tbs water together and then add to the blueberry mixture. Cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool completely (may be done in the refrigerator).

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Assembly: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out one ball of dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a well floured surface. Use a 2.5-3 inch cookie cutter to cut out circles for the pie. You should have about 10 circles depending on the size of the cookie cutter. Place these, evenly spaced, on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Spoon some of the blueberry mixture into the center of the circle. Be careful not to place too much blueberry filling or the pies will overflow when the top is placed.

Brush the beaten egg around the edges. Roll out the second ball of dough and cut out the same number of pie circles. Cut a hole (or other shape!) in the middle and then make several slits in the pie circle to vent the pie while cooking. Place this circle of dough over the blueberry filling and use a fork to crimp the pie edges together. Brush the tops with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking racks. Enjoy!

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Honey Lavender Ice Cream with Candied Hazelnuts

img_3943Earlier this month I made lavender shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate with sea salt, inspired by my trip to Croatia, where lavender permeated the streets.  This week I’m continuing on my Croatian culinary adventure by making ice cream with lavender, honey and candied hazelnuts, all from Croatia.

Side note: I also brought back some amazing white truffles which I used this week to flavor some homemade pasta with butter and parmesan cheese!!!!

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But back to the ice cream!  I previously made honey ice cream  a few years ago by substituting sugar for honey in my go-to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream recipe.  This recipe is a simple variation on the honey ice cream by infusing the milk and cream with lavender and then adding chopped candied hazelnuts.  However, you can change it up and add anything you want like chocolate chips- everything is better with chocolate!

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Honey Lavender Ice Cream with Candied Hazelnuts (adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams)

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 oz of cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup  honey
2 Tbs dried lavender
1/2 cup chopped candied hazelnuts (confession: I cheated and used pre-made candied hazelnuts from Croatia)

Prep
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Cook
Combine the remaining milk, the cream, honey, and lavender in a 4-quart saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Chill
Gradually pour the hot milk mixture through a strainer/sieve into the cream cheese mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Freeze
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy. When almost done spinning, add the candied hazelnuts and spin until evenly distributed.  Pack the ice cream into a storage container. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

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Lavender Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Chocolate with Sea Salt- Inspiration from Croatia

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I just got back from one of the most amazing vacations in Croatia.  Nestled in Eastern Europe, this coastal country along the Adriatic Sea gets many of its influences from Italy and Greece.  The country is peppered with cute little coastal towns characterized by cobblestone alleyways,  restaurant patios reminiscent of a European city, gelato stands, and ancient Greek and Roman architecture all set on a backdrop of the glittering turquoise  Adriatic Sea bustling with boats.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the food!  Who knew Croatia was such a foodie mecca!  Fresh seafood is everywhere and cuttlefish or black squid ink risotto is one of their specialties- I think I ate this at least 4 times in my week-long trip.  Borrowing from their Italian neighbors, homemade gnocchi can be found in most restaurants.  Other specialties include white truffles from Northern Croatia, honey, capers, olive oil, wine, oysters, and lavender.

The lavender is grown in Hvar, a small party island a few hours by ferry from Dubrovnik or Split.  We were there just shy of lavender harvesting season (which occurs later in June) but were able to make a trip to see the lavender fields which are beautiful even not in bloom.  The lavender is sold all over Croatia in the form of potpourri, soap, honey, oil, and plain dried leaves for cooking.

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I, of course, returned home laden with food gifts: white truffles, truffle honey, truffle oil, candied hazelnuts, and lavender and lavender honey.  I’ll admit that lavender in food is a bit of an acquired taste, but I happen to love its subtle floral flavor in baked goods, especially paired with chocolate.  I have a few ideas for the lavender (honey lavender ice cream and a lavender lemonade cocktail) but first up was lavender shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate with sea salt.  This is actually a recipe I made about 10 years ago, before I even went to medical school.  I modified it slightly this time by sprinkling sea salt over the chocolate to add some contrasting flavor.

And don’t worry!  You don’t have to travel all the way to Croatia to find lavender (although maybe you should!), you can find it at many local grocery stores or buy it online.  Enjoy this recipe and look for future recipes on my blog featuring lavender!

Lavender Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Chocolate with Sea Salt

(makes about 4 dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) butter, at room temperature (no substitutes)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons very finely chopped lavender florets (dried)
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 oz bittersweet chocolate

sea salt for finishing

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cover bottoms of two baking sheets with parchment or brown paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and lavender with an electric mixer. Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour, cornstarch, and salt and beat until incorporated. Divide dough in half. Flatten into squares and wrap in plastic. Chill until firm.
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On a floured board, roll or pat out each square to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut the dough into 1 1/2 -inch squares or rounds. Transfer to baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart. Prick each cookie several times with a fork.
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Bake 20 to 25 minutes until pale golden (do not brown). Cool slightly, then transfer to a rack.
Melt chocolate in microwave, starting with 30 seconds and adding time in 15-20 second increments after, stirring in between so it doesn’t burn.  Dip half of each cookie into the melted chocolate and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Sprinkle sea salt on the chocolate before it sets.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Enjoy!
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Green Tea Matcha Cupcakes with Whipped Mascarpone Frosting

 

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This post is really exciting for me! First off, it’s been a long time since I baked anything for my blog…life and work seem to always get in the way. Second, I got to test out my new macro lens!  I’ve been wanting to buy one for a long time but finally decided to bite the bullet after I got hired to shoot some food photography for 2 local restaurants!!!  While I love my 35 mm prime lens and it has been great so far for my food photography, macro lenses can reproduce even more detail which is perfect for drool-worthy food photographs!

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Lastly, you may notice the new videos/GIFs I’ve used in this post.  They are actually called “stop-motion vignettes” and are perfect for showing cooking and baking processes like frosting a cupcake!  I learned how to make them from the amazingly talented photographer and food blogger, Betty Liu.  Check out her blog to learn how to make your own stop-motion vignettes.  It took some trial and error, but I think I got the hang of it eventually.

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So now for the cupcakes…I first experimented with matcha green tea last year in  my post on matcha green tea, white chocolate macademia nut cookies.   Matcha green tea is a fine green powder that has been popping up everywhere from lattes to cookies and cakes.  Not only does it have a lovely flavor, but it makes for a gorgeous green color.  I had initially planned on making a different dessert this weekend but figured cupcakes would be the perfect dessert to show off my new stop motion vignettes!  I was also tasked with making a non-chocolate dessert for dinner with friends tonight so matcha seemed like the perfect flavor to try.  I paired the matcha cupcake with a simple, light frosting so as to not overpower the delicate matcha flavor in the cupcake.  The result was pretty tasty- hopefully my friends will agree!

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Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes with Whipped Mascarpone Frosting

(makes 12)

Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tabelspoons matcha green tea
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

Whipped Mascarpone Frosting

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a small bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and matcha.

In an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add egg and mix on medium until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and then sour cream, mixing until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about halfway. Bake, rotating halfway through, until cupcakes spring back to touch and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 16 minutes. Let cool in tin 5 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

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For the frosting, combine the butter, cream cheese, and mascarpone cheese in a stand mixer, fitted with a whip attachment.  Beat on medium to high speed until thoroughly combined, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt and mix until smooth.  Add the heavy cream and whip on high for a minute until light and fluffy.  You may want to refrigerate for 30 minutes before frosting to firm it up a bit.

Frost the cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

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Cooking Vegetarian with Alden and Harlow and Formaggio Kitchen

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a blog post trying to recreate the “ubiquitous kale salad” from one of my favorite Boston restaurants, Alden and Harlow.  While my version was pretty good, it still paled in comparison to Alden and Harlow’s creation.  Luckily, I finally got my chance to learn how to make it this past week at a sold-out vegetarian cooking class with Michael Scelfo of Alden and Harlow hosted by Formaggio Kitchen.

Normally vegetarian cooking doesn’t get me super excited.  However, Michael Scelfo takes forgotten or common vegetables (like kale, broccoli, or carrots) and turns them into star dishes, bursting with texture and flavor.  Trust me, you won’t miss the meat in any of these!

Scelfo started the class by talking about Alden and Harlow and his original concept for the restaurant.  At the time, he was trying to eat healthier and cook with more vegetables at home with his wife and three children.  He focused on making simple dishes with good ingredients and new flavor profiles.  He then took this concept of home cooking and elevated and refined it for Alden and Harlow.  If you follow his instagram feed (@mscelfo) you’ll see all the mouth-watering, restaurant-worthy dishes he cooks at home for his lucky family (#dinnerathome).

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His restaurant has been wildly successful and he’ll be opening his second restaurant, Waypoint, in a few months.  One of my favorite things about Alden and Harlow is how often Scelfo rotates the menu, creating new dishes based on what is available and seasonal locally.  However, there are a few old-standbys that have been on the menu since the early days and they just happen to be vegetarian!

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The first dish of the night was the highly anticipated “ubiquitous kale salad”.   First raw kale is mixed with raw, thinly sliced fennel.  The salad is then elevated by adding a rich, creamy dressing of creme fraiche, pistachios, lemon and honey and then topping it with crispy fried kale (everything is better fried, right?).  The outcome was as delicious as I remembered and I can’t wait to make it at home!

 

The next dish he taught us is a complete surprise to the palate: Pickled corn pancakes with buttermilk, maple, shishito, and popcorn.  This dish was based on corn pancakes his family made growing up but  elevated and punched up a few notches.

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This creation is the epitome of sweet and savory; the sweet corn pancake and maple is balanced out perfectly by the whimsical popcorn topping and shishito peppers.  He makes a sweeter version with fruit for brunch.

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The final dish he demonstrated was charred broccoli with butternut squash hummus, bianco sardo and smoked cashews.  The hummus is made with roasted butternut squash and smoked cashews as a base.  While it may be hard to smoke cashews at home (due to strict Boston area fire rules) the rest of the butternut squash hummus is relatively straightforward and versatile.  Scelfo encouraged us to experiment and change up the dishes depending on availability of ingredients or taste preference.

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By the end of the class I was surprisingly full from all the delicious vegetables…and maybe slightly tipsy from the plentiful Montenidoli Tradizionale wine (thanks Formaggio Kitchen!).  Scelfo really proved that vegetarian cooking can be both flavorful, innovative, and easy to do at home.  Kale salad anyone????:)