Sesame Cashew Bars

img_0763It seems I unexpectedly took a sabbatical from blogging…  Don’t worry, I’ve still been cooking/baking (although less than normal…)!  Life just got a bit hectic to fit photographing and blogging into the mix!

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The past 6 months have been a bit of a whirlwind with work, fellowship interviews all over the country, a month-long elective in NYC, new photography jobs, a quick trip to Iceland and everyday life.  I’ve managed to do some cooking and baking here and there…and obviously a lot of eating!

I’ve actually been meaning to post about these Sesame Cashew Bars from Sofra for a few months.  Have you ever purchased a cookbook just for one recipe?  These bars are that recipe!  It was love at first taste for me…salty, roasted cashews paired with smooth, silky caramel and buttery shortbread all together in one scrumptious bite.  I bought them one day while strolling through the Boston Public Market and meandering through the produce at Sienna Farms (run by the team behind Sofra and Oleana).  They called out to me inside their glistening cellophane packaging.  One bite was all it took and I was hooked.  I tried to save the rest of the bars by freezing them but it was a futile attempt.  Last summer I tried to recreate them by making these caramel cashew bars; they were very good but not as good as the Sofra version.

Lucky for me (and my friends), Sofra recently published a cookbook, Soframiz, featuring 100 recipes from Sofra…including these sesame cashew bars!!! I immediately bought the cookbook and made my first batch…and soon a second.   They were just as heavenly as I remembered!  They are relatively easy to make with only a handful of ingredients- just remember they need to be made the day before you are going to eat them so they can cool.

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Sesame Cashew Bars (From Soframiz)

Ingredients
For The Crust:
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1¾ sticks (7 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • ⅔ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

For The Filling:

  • 3½ cups salted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
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Instructions:
  1. Line a 13 by 9-inch pan with aluminum foil, making sure it extends over the sides (or else caramel seeps in between the foil and pan and makes it hard to get out…you might want to double layer). Very lightly spray or butter the foil. (see note below)
  2. Make The Crust: Combine the flour, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the butter forms pieces the size of small pebbles, 20-30 seconds. Pour the crust crumbs into the prepared pan and press down to form an even layer. Cover and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the crust until golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Make The Filling: While the crust is cooling, make the filling. Combine the cashews, sesame seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  5. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and honey, and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar dissolves and begins to turn to caramel, forming large bubbles and thickening, or reaches 240ºF on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and vanilla. Add cashew mixture to the pot. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cashew mixture into the caramel until well combined.
  6. Pour the filling on top of the baked crust in an even layer. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the caramel bubbles along the sides of the pan only and the center is still liquid, 26 to 28 minutes. The filling will appear unbaked. It is very important not to over-bake. The filling will set up as it cools.
  7. Set aside to cool completely and then cover and refrigerate overnight.
  8. Lift the foil out of the pan to remove the bars in one large block. Cut into thirty-six 1½-inch squares.
  9. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  They taste best when allowed to come to room temperature for 30 min to an hour.
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A Tale of Two (Baked) Donuts: Matcha Green Tea and Nutella

A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Linda who I befriended this summer at a wonderful food photography workshop here in Boston.  We have both been eagerly practicing our food styling and photographing since the workshop (i.e. we are major food dorks!) and decided to join forces to whip up, style, and photograph some beautiful baked donuts.  After perusing some recipes online, we decided to bake these matcha green tea donuts and baked nutella donuts.  Linda bought most of the ingredients (I brought the sprinkles!) and we convened at her lovely house on an overcast Sunday afternoon (perfect for photographing!).  She had just visited Mryth ceramics in Allston, MA so we had some gorgeous bowls and plates for styling.  I also brought along a few pieces from Ogusky Ceramics (@botonpotter) to round out the setup.

First up were the matcha green tea donuts.  We had a little extra help from Linda’s dog, Elsie, to make these 🙂 Who knew dogs loved green tea donut batter?

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I have to admit that we were a bit skeptical of the green tea donuts at first. They were a bit hard to get out of the pan and about half were deemed “unphoto worthy” after removal.

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After we ruined a few more donuts trialling different glaze dipping strategies, we finally found a method that was both delicious and aesthetically pleasing.  We recommend dipping the side that was not face down agains the pan while baking, otherwise the glaze sticks into all the nooks and crannies of the baked donut and doesn’t look great.

The final product was insanely delicious and quite pretty..if you like teenage mutant ninja turtle green 🙂

Next we moved on to the Nutella baked donuts.  We were in a bit of a rush to finish these because it was the first day after daylight saving time and we realized sunset was fast approaching!  These baked up perfectly round and were much easier to remove from the pan.  We went a little overboard decorating them with sprinkles and then ran upstairs to take advantage of the little remaining sunlight.  Luckily we were able to get a few shots in before it grew dark.

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While these donuts were the cuter of the pair, our favorite was the matcha green tea donuts.  Linda is already working on tweaking the matcha donut recipe!

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One other exciting thing that came from our donut making endeavor was that I got my first repost by Food52!!!!

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Find the donut recipes here:

Matcha Green Tea Donuts
Baked Nutella Donuts

Have any of you tried baked donuts?  What did you think? Any favorites?

 

 

Lemon Raspberry Mascarpone Tart

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It just started getting colder outside.  Fall is coming!  So I figured I should post this summer tart before it gets any colder!

I made this tart about 1 month ago for a dinner party.  I admit I wasn’t paying enough attention when I was making the crust (I blame too many hours at the hospital) and accidentally used 2 sticks of butter…instead of 6 Tbs!!!  I had a mini panic attack and then decided to just add another cup of flour and persevere on.  And I have to say, it was pretty delicious (and buttery!).  When life hands you lemons…turn it into a super buttery raspberry lemon mascarpone tart!

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For the Mascarpone Lemon Curd (from Joanne Chang in Fine Cooking)

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz mascarpone cream , softened

For the crust (adapted from Martha Stewart):
2 sticks (16 Tbs) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

Assembly:
2 pints raspberries
Whipped cream (optional)

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For the mascarpone lemon curd:

In a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan, heat the lemon juice and butter over medium-high heat until just under a boil. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk and then slowly whisk in the sugar until combined. Gradually whisk the hot lemon juice mixture into the sugar and eggs.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until the curd thickens and coats the spoon, 2 to 4 minutes. Draw your finger along the back of the spoon; when the curd is done, it should hold the trail.

Remove the curd from the heat and strain it through a fine sieve into a bowl. Whisk in the vanilla and salt. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic onto the surface of the curd, and chill for 1 to 2 hours before using. Mix 1 cup lemon curd with the mascarpone cheese until thoroughly blended.

For the crust:

Stir together butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in yolks. Add flour and salt, and stir until mixture is dry and crumbly. Press dough into bottom and up sides of a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake, rotating halfway through, just until crust turns golden around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool in tart pan on a wire rack, 1 hour.

Assembly:

Pour mascarpone lemon curd into chilled crust.  Top with fresh raspberries.  Serve with whipped cream if desired.

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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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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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