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????:)

 

Nutella Blossom Cookies

As a Jew, Christmas has always seemed magical to me: the tree, the lights, the presents, and of course…the cookies!  With the explosion of social media posts around the holidays, it seemed like everyone was getting in the Christmas spirit (minus Mother Nature…70 degrees on Christmas Eve? Seriously?).  While I didn’t go all in and buy my own Christmas tree (I’ll admit I was kinda tempted because they smell so good!) I did decide to make my own Christmas, or holiday, cookies.

Last weekend I attended an awesome ugly sweater holiday party and the hostess made the most delicious cookies: Nutella cookies!  I am pretty sure I have confessed my love for Nutella before but I really really really really love Nutella!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  After obtaining the recipe from the hostess I decided to make my own version of traditional Peanut Butter Blossoms (the peanut butter cookies with a hershey kiss in the middle) but with the Nutella cookies.

One key fact I learned while making these cookies: While Nutella is amazing, skinning hazelnuts is not.  You can buy them already skinned if you are lucky enough to locate them but I, unfortunately, was not that lucky.  There are 2 methods to skinning hazelnuts.  Both have their pluses and minuses and both are kinda a pain.  I chose the blanching method with good results and to be honest, these cookies are worth the pain.

To all my loyal readers, happy and delicious holidays!

Nutella Blossom Cookies (Recipe adapted slightly from Cook’s Country via food.com)

Makes about 54 cookies

3 cups  all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons  baking powder
1⁄2teaspoon  salt
1 1⁄4cups nutella, spread
4 tablespoons  unsalted butter, softened
1 1⁄3cups  granulated sugar
1 teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 teaspoon  instant espresso powder
2 large  eggs
1⁄3 cup  milk
1⁄2 cup  hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped fine
1 cup  confectioners’ sugar
54 hershey kisses

Adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 375°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

With electric mixer on medium high speed, beat Nutella, butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, espresso powder and eggs and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and milk, and mix until just combined. Fold in 1/2 cup of hazelnuts and refrigerate dough until firm about 1 hour.

Place confectioners’ sugar in a bowl. One at a time roll dough into 1 inch balls and then roll in confectioners’ sugar.

Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.  Press one hershey kiss into the center of each cookie.

Bake until set, about 8 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, and transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Last weekend I spent the weekend visiting my friend in Philly and eating lots of delicious food (and shopping…).  Philly has an amazing food and cocktail scene and I probably arrived home about 5 pounds heavier!  While everything was delicious, my favorite meal was at Vernick Food and Drink near Rittenhouse Square.  The meal started with the perfect amuse-bouche: a tiny cup of the most delicious sweet potato soup I have ever tasted.  I would have been satisfied just eating an entire bowl of it for my dinner!  But then I never would have tried the toast with fromage blanc, the striped jack and avocado crudo, the parmesan custard, the black-pepper glazed octopus, the tagliatelle with duck ragout and last but not least, the amazing chocolate pumpkin pie dessert!

Their chocolate pumpkin pie was a rich, creamy dark chocolate pie with strong pumpkin spice flavors.  Served warm as a small  individual pie (enough for 2 or 3…or 1 🙂 ) it was the perfect end to an outstanding meal.  As soon as I had my first bite of the pie, I knew I had to try to recreate it at home.

I had recently seen a recipe in the November issue of Bon Appetit for a Pumpkin Caramel Tart and decided to modify it to try to recreate the Vernick Chocolate Pumpkin Pie.  Instead of making the caramel as the recipe calls for, I made a dark chocolate ganache and substituted this for the caramel in the recipe.  I altered the spices and then poured the filling into a simple butter pie crust, laced with more spices.

The final product was pretty good but definitely paled in comparison to the Vernick version.  The chocolate overpowered the pumpkin quite a bit so I’m planning on increasing the amount of spices I use in my next test run (or maybe adding ground cloves or all-spice).  I was also unhappy with the crust and plan to substitute for a graham cracker or gingersnap crust next time.  Any volunteers to taste test?

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Crust (makes 2 9 inch pie crusts, adapted from Bon Appetit):
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 tablespoons (about) ice water

Filling (adapted from Bon Appetit Pumpkin Caramel Tart):
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup dark chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate, no greater than 70%- I like using Ghiraddelli dark chocolate chips)
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs

whipped cream for serving

For the crust: Mix flour, sugar, salt, and spices 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.

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Roll crust out on a floured surface into a 12-14 inch circle.  Fit into a 9 inch pie pan and crimp the edges.  Line crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove parchment paper and pie weights and bake for 5 more minutes until set.  Allow to cool.

For the filling:  Scald the cream over medium heat in a small saucepan until bubbles just start to form.  Pour over the dark chocolate in a medium heat resistant bowl.  Allow to stand for about a minute and then whisk chocolate and cream together until smooth to make a ganache.

Mix pumpkin puree, brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, spices and salt together in a large mixing bowl.  Slowly mix in the chocolate ganache.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing completely in between each addition until smooth.

Pour filling into prepared pie shell.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes until edges are set and center barely jiggles.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve cold or at room temperature.  Top with whipped cream if desired.

Store in refrigerator.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Snickerdoodle Cookies

Last Wednesday (November 4th) was National Stress Awareness Day (it was also National Candy Day…).  In a world filled with picture perfect Facebook, (insert social media of choice here), and Instagram posts, it’s easy to think that everyone else is living a fun, happy, stress-free life.  But the truth is, most of us deal with some amount of stress on a daily basis…some have just gotten better at hiding it.

National Stress Awareness Day comes at a perfect time.  Not only is it starting to get colder, but Daylight Savings kicks into effect robbing us of an extra hour of light everyday.  Cold and darkness can certainly exacerbate feelings of stress and depression.  Additionally, by November, I generally find that I have overcommitted to too many work projects and social engagements and need some time to myself.

Everyone has their own way to deal with this stress and for me, that comes in the form of cooking and baking (I recognize, though, that this may be stress inducing for others).  So last Wednesday, instead of going to spinning class, going out on a date, or working on a research project, I decided to just go home and cook, bake, and relax!

I had a craving for a pumpkin dessert and after logging onto Pinterest, these pumpkin cheesecake snickerdoodle cookies immediately caught my eye!  It is kinda hard to resist pumpkin and cheesecake all combined into one amazing cookie!

I will admit that these were a little more labor intensive than I initially anticipated.  The dough was a little sticky which made it a bit difficult to work with when assembling the cookies.  Perhaps I should have chilled the dough longer but patience is not my virtue…especially when pumpkin is involved!  The extra work was worth it though- the soft, pillowy, pumpkin spiced cookies did not last long at work the next day!  These cookies may not cure your stress, but they will certainly make it a little sweeter 🙂

Pumpkin Cheesecake Snickerdoodle Cookies

(Makes 24, from The Recipe Critic)

Cookies:
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly-ground ground nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon-sugar coating:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
Dash of allspice

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together. Set aside.

In a stand-mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugars on medium high speed until fluffy about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in pumpkin puree, beat in egg and then add vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients on low speed just until combined. Cover and chill dough for an hour.

To make the cream cheese filling, blend cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together. Chill for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 and line your baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and spices for the coating and set aside.

To make the cookies, take a tablespoon of the cookie batter. Flatten it like a pancake and place a teaspoon of the cream cheese in center. Form another tablespoon of the cookie batter into a flat pancake shape and place on top of the cream cheese. Pinch the edges together sealing in the cream cheese and roll into a ball. Roll in the cinnamon sugar coating and place on the prepared baking sheet 2 inches apart.

Repeat until the dough is gone and flatten the cookie dough balls with a heavy bottomed glass or measuring cup.  Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes or until the tops start to crack. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy!