Nosh: Lavender Ice Cream

A while ago I offered to watch an ice cream maker for a friend while he and his (now) fiancee spent some time overseas, because I am a humanitarian.  I give, people.  I give.  And I wanted to see if I would enjoy the process of ice cream making or if I’d think, meh, and would have wasted $80 buying my own machine that I’d never have used after its maiden churning.

I was hard-pressed to return said friend his property when he came home.  Homemade ice cream?  In my house?  Yes!  The only thing that’s even marginally part way kind of a drag about my ice cream maker is that you need to plan your ice cream making accordingly and freeze the churning sleeve overnight.  The simple remedy is to leave the sleeve permanently in your freezer so you can be ready for any ice cream emergencies, but hey, it’s up to you what you want to do.  If you even want to get a maker.  You could always churn it by hand, I suppose, though as far as that goes I am no help at all.

So I was out in my back yard the other day and I realized, we have a lovely crop of lavender.  It returned from last year which sort of surprised me; even though I know it’s a perennial, the ways off all growing things always catch me unawares.  Especially when they do what they ought, since I never get plants to behave.  Thrive.  Not die.  Anyway.  While I’m happy to attract bees and give them some nommy pollen to nosh on, the question still remains…what does one do with a surprise lavender crop?

Surprise!

Though I did just come across a recipe for lavender marshmallows; I swoon at the thought.  My options are ever-expanding.

I decided the time was right for me to make lavender ice cream.  I didn’t change anything in the recipe I used except for this: because my lavender buds were fresh, not dried, I doubled the amount I used.  Why is that, you ask?  Because fresh herbs are full of water so their flavor is less concentrated.  As a general rule, if you use any fresh herb in any recipe that calls for it dried, you should at the very least double the amount you’re using (though I’ve seen plenty of sites that say the ratio is actually three to one, and so I should have tripled the amount, but I’ve always doubled and been happy with the results, and I digress).

Of course, that means four tablespoons of lavender, which sounds like a lot of buds…

Four tablespoons lavender buds, coming right up.

…CORRECTION…

…which IS a lot of buds.  But your hands smell fantastic when you’re done, so really, is it that big of a deal?  And you’re going to strain them anyway, so you won’t have weird flowery bits between your teeth while you’re trying to enjoy dessert.  Relax.  Just see where this takes you before you judge.

Here’s everything you need.  Nothing scary.  No eye of newt or horn of toad.

A little cream, some honey, some half-and-half.

Ok, well, all this and about an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and some eggs.  Crazy how so few things can taste oh so good.  So the first thing you’re going to do–to make it oh so good–is start your lavender cream cooking.  Add the cream, half-and-half, honey and lavender into a pot and bring it just to a boil, but as soon as it starts to boil pull it off the heat, don’t let it continue to cook.  Once it’s off the heat, you let it steep.

Lavender cream in process.

There it is.  Steeping away, like a tea.  Let this sit for a half an hour while the cream coaxes all the lavendery deliciousness from the flowers.  Then strain it, clean the pot and return the cream to a low heat.  You’ll want it to heat up a bit before the next step, but you don’t need to boil it.

So you have your nice strained cream…

Strained, warmed cream.

…and two eggs, whipped with the salt.

Eggs, whipped and ready for action.

Hmmm…cream…eggs…cream?  Eggs?  I see the beginnings of a custard..!

Indeed.

Take your hot milk and add it to the eggs.  NOTE: Do NOT add the eggs to the hot cream, and do NOT dump the cream in all at once.  Add the cream into the eggs in a slow, steady, stream, whipping it with the eggs while you do.  This tempers the eggs, raising their temperature incrementally so the proteins don’t realize how hot they’re going to get and tighten up, sort of like the proverbial frog in the slow-cooking pan of water.  If you don’t think you need to temper and just dump, you’ll have a pot full of scrambled eggs, and “Who wants egg ice cream?” doesn’t hold the same sort of allure for me.  Or anyone.  Ever.

Once your cream and eggs are mixed and smooth, return the whole thing to heat and cook it until it thickens up and reaches a temperature of about 175°.  Don’t let it boil, you just want it to get thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and leave a clear stripe when you run your finger through it.

From hereon out it gets super-easy.  Cover your custard and stick it in the back of the fridge for at least three hours, and as long as overnight.  (Mine was in for three or four hours and it came out just fine.)  After that?  Into the (frozen sleeve-ed, promptly assembled) ice cream maker!

You’re going to take it from this…

Custard, locked and loaded.

…to this…

We have achieved ice cream status.

…in about twenty-five minutes.  It’s certainly thick enough to eat at this point but it’s still kind of soft, so if you don’t want it to melt right away in your bowl, exercise a little bit of patience and stash it in the freezer.  No, not in the churning sleeve, in a storage container.  Be sensible.

Floral lavender goes beautifully with the bitterness of dark chocolate, so feel free to serve it that way, or with a salted caramel sauce.  But me, I acted the purist and just had a bowl of beautiful, fragrant, refreshing, unfestooned ice cream.  And oh my stars and garters, but it was gooood!

Spoons at the ready, people.

Nosh: Chocolate Honey Tart

I’m not entirely sure why this dish is called a “chocolate honey tart”, since honey flavors the crust but isn’t an integral part of the pie itself.  It would be like calling an old-fashioned apple pie with lard in the crust an “apple-lard pie”.  Mmmmmm, apple-lard.

I hear it’s very good.

Anyway.  I’ve made this dessert probably three or four times already and it always pays off big for me, but nevertheless…I have issues.  With how they pitch it, with how the recipe says to execute certain steps in the making.  For starters, the thing that makes this dish stand out for me is neither the chocolate (which nearly always ranks high on my list of yes) or the honey (see above paragraph) but rather, the lavender.  Yes, lavender.  Yes, the stuff that’s in that soap your grandmother kept in her linen closet so it would stay “fresh”.  Lavender, believe it or not, is quite lovely in food, so long as it’s used in moderation.  I do admit it can readily taste like you’re eating soap if it’s overdone, but I also like spicy food, which can resemble eating hot coals if you have a big overdo-it.  It’s all relative.

Some people say lavender tastes almost minty but for me, I like the way the pungent floral topnotes (think of the tastes that you sort of get up your nose) combine with its earthy, almost bitter quality, especially when you incorporate the leaves into your cooking.  Lavender sprigs may even be substituted for rosemary in most recipes, as it’s the flowers that taste really…uh…flowery.  I have admitted elsewhere that I adore floral flavors in my food.  I love violet ice cream, have been known to macerate rose petals, and recently came across a recipe for chamomile whipped cream that I am aching to try.  Lavender is not the easiest thing to get your hands on (Central Pennsylvanians, try the Natural Food Store in Lewisburg, or just order it online) but it can be found.  If you’re in any way a gardener (which, as the proud owner of the blackest of all black thumbs, I assure you I am not, but the boyfriend has his moments), then plant some.  It’s a perennial, so it will keep coming back as if by magic, and if you have a very warm even-though-global-warming-isn’t-real-she-said-facetiously winter, you can start harvesting in early May, though we mainly have leaves right now.

Lavender. Washed and ready to go.

We did have some dried buds, so they went in the mix too, but the greens looked so much more photogenic.  Anyway.  Wash the lavender, pull as much as you need, set it on a paper towel and let it dry on the side while you make your crust.

Making the crust is easy-peasy.  Put graham crackers, butter, and the titular honey in a food processor.  Process.  Until it looks like this:

Yup, looks pretty much right.

And then press it into a pan.  The recipe specifically calls for a tart pan with a removable bottom but I say meh.  You could certainly use the tart pan or a springform pan if you have one, but if you have neither (or if you’re downright stubborn…from one who knows) a pie plate works just fine.  Once the graham cracker crust is ready, press it into your baking vehicle of choice and put the crust in the oven (set at 350) for ten minutes or so, to set.

Post-oven, set, ready for the good stuff.

Right.  You set your crust, it’s cooling.  Now what?

Keep an eye on two things at the same time!

First, the recipe says to put the cream and lavender in a saucepan, boil it so the herbs steep, and then strain it into the chocolate.  Does it surprise anyone that I have issues with this?  First, it doesn’t specify which cream to use (other than “whipping cream”), so I will tell you now.  Stop dithering around at the dairy section and get heavy whipping cream.  Don’t worry about if you should get half-and-half, or some sort of “light” cream (an oxymoron if ever I heard one).  Go for full-on heavy cream, and make the tart so rich you can only eat a little piece of it.

If you can–if you have cheesecloth handy, or a tea ball–then steep your herbs in something else so you don’t have to worry about straining them at the end.  It’s probably not THAT big a deal, but it’s so simple to fish one little gris-gris bag full of lavender hoodoo out of your cream…

A bag full o’ herbs, steeping in a pot of cream. It’s just so tidy this way.

…instead of worrying about whether or not you’re going to splash hot cream everywhere.  As I, perhaps, have been known to do.

I’m not a ticking time bomb.  I’m a pending ER visit.

While your cream and lavender are steeping, put your chocolate into a double-boiler.  I know the recipe says to just put it in a saucepan, but here’s the thing: chocolate is an unforgiving mistress.  It can burn, it can scorch, it can seize, it can do all sorts of persnickety things, if you don’t treat it with love.  So put it in that double-boiler and treat it to gentle heat.  If you don’t have a double-boiler (like I don’t), then take a metal or glass mixing bowl and set it over a medium-sized pot with about an inch of water in the bottom.  Voila!  Double-boiler.

The recipe calls for twelve ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips.  I’m down with the bittersweet (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao), I’m down with the chips.  But here’s the thing…most bags of chocolate chips are only ten ounces.  I know, I checked.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, or have one but don’t feel like getting a second bag of chips, weighing out two ounces for the tart and then finding yourself stuck while you try to figure out what to do with these other remaining eight ounces of extraneous chippery I tell you now–relax.  Get one bag of chips, and one four-ounce bar of bittersweet baking chocolate.  Break that bar in half.  Put one half in with the chips.  Eat the other half.  No waste, you get a delicious treat, and you’ve got twelve perfectly measured ounces of chocolatey goodness waiting to be molded to your will.

All’s well that’s measured correctly.

Chocolate, in the boiler.  Heat, nice and medium-ish.  And let it melt.

Gentle, mellow progress.

And melt…

Tip: A heat resistant silicone spatula is good whenever you plan on working with any sort of candy.

And melt…

*om nom nom*

And, at this point, you pour in your (strained, or lavender gris-gris free) cream and then…

D’oh, no!

Admittedly, it looks a little like Pensacola Beach after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but that’s only for a few minutes.  Stir, have patience, keep the heat low and steady.  Stir, patience.  Stir, patience.  It will be rewarded.

Yay!

When you think you’ve reached the pinnacle of its smooth, creamy-chocolatey goodness, throw in some more cocoa powder and a little butter.  Just to make yourselves wild with desire.

If you thought this was easy…or maybe not easy but eh, not-so-bad…then wait until you get a load of this next series of steps.

1. Pour it into the prepared crust.

Tart in the making.

2. Let it start to cool on the counter for a little while (twenty minutes, maybe?) and then put it in the fridge.  It should set up for a minimum of 45 minutes, it’s totally set after two hours and it can stay there overnight.  Whatever, it’s all good.  And then

3. Eat.

Preferably with vanilla ice cream.

It’s really simple to make, it pays off every time, it doesn’t require terribly fancy equipment to make, and it’s like mainlining chocolate through a beautiful bouquet.  I’m not sure if there could ever be anything wrong with any of these claims, particularly because they are all true.  This won’t let you down.  Enjoy!

Nosh: Stuffed Baby Peppers with Floral Yogurt, Sweet and Sour Jalapenos, and Walnuts

Yesterday was my boyfriend’s birthday, and (as usual) I cooked him whatever he wanted for dinner.  But as I am a foodie, I also wanted to try something new, some sort of appetizer, or something.  Shake the tree a little, if you will.  While I was reading Food & Wine a day or two ago I saw a recipe for Stuffed Baby Peppers with Yogurt and Floral Honey which, you know, yum, as I am the sort of foodie who digs floral flavors, wherever I can get them.  Remember those violet candies your grandmother had when you were a kid?  Yep, loved ‘em.  While I was in France I got violet ice cream, one of the best memories I have from there.  Rose petals + strawberries + Grand Marnier + some sugar and a chance to macerate + fresh whipped cream at the end = dessert I will knock people over to have.  Lavender?  Love it, particularly in lavender salted caramels.  Too much and it tastes like soap, I agree, but in the right amounts?  Heaven.  I’m the person who steals unattended nasturtiums from other peoples’ salad plates at events.  I even like hoppy beer (kids, hands off).  So, floral honey??!?  Yeah!

The problem: I didn’t have two weeks to infuse the honey with florally goodness.  And the recipe calls for olives, but I’m not in an olive mood.  There are times I can’t get enough of ‘em, the olives, and I put them in my salads and on pizzas and in hummus and pita and anywhere else I can think to stick them.  But today?  Not so much.  The boyfriend always reminds me that I have no respect for the inherent integrity of a recipe, and he’s right, and so in that spirit I give you:

Stuffed Baby Peppers with Floral Yogurt, Sweet and Sour Jalapenos, and Walnuts

The first thing I did was prepare the yogurt, but I did so hours before I was officially ready to cook so I didn’t take pictures.  But.  You take a single-serving of good thick Greek yogurt and whisk it together with (roughly, I unfortunately never measure) a tablespoon of crushed dried rose petals (seriously, crush them thoroughly) and a teaspoon each of rose water and pomegranate molasses.  Grate in the zest from one lime and sprinkle with salt, and whisk again.  Cover->fridge->done.  It’s pungent, elegant and sexy as hell.  You can get rose petals and rose water at various shops throughout the interwebs…I mean, it’s not like I have an organic edible flower gardener right down the road from me in central PA.  And if you’re really stuck here’s a recipe for pomegranate molasses, but it’s becoming more readily available, so check your grocery store if you think I’m crazy.

There were two of us, so I took ten baby peppers and put them in a grill pan (no, I didn’t fire up my grill and no, don’t put oil or anything on them) to get a little char on them.  Once they get their char on (any Greek mythology nerds find this stupidly funny?), set them aside to cool.

I love their beautiful colors!

See how cute and little they are?

Charred and chillin'.

Next, pickle your jalapeno.  Easy-peasy.  Slice a jalapeno super-thin and put it in a non-reactive bowl (Pyrex, something stainless, but not cast-iron or aluminum, as they could leach into your food).  Coat with salt–don’t be afraid, it’s a pickle, after all–and put in a good hearty squeeze of honey.  Top with enough vinegar to cover the peppers; you want to give them something to hang out in without your having to worry about stirring them to ensure even pickling.  I put them in cider vinegar, because peppers (and especially jalapenos, it seems) LOVE cider vinegar.  I don’t recommend getting too experimental with the flavor of vinegar you choose, because why ruin a good thing?  But use what you’ve got, keep it relatively mild (put the aged balsamic down and walk away, people), and just be aware that it’s going to have to interact with other flavors later.

Cover this and let the peppers hang out for a while, at least an hour.  I put them in a sunny spot on the windowsill, but if you don’t have a sunny windowsill just put them aside on the counter.  They’re so thin they’ll react to the acid in the vinegar and “cook” (sort of like a ceviche) without heating the pickling liquid.  I suppose you can heat the honey, salt and vinegar and pour that on the pickle slices, and then sit all that in the fridge but honestly?  That’s one more pan to clean, and I am personally made way more happy by the thought of a happy bowl of jalapenos pickling on my windowsill.

Firey, but good.

OK, so.  Baby sweet peppers grilled, and cooling.  Jalapeno pickling in the sun.  Relax for a little while.  Or, cut the peppers in half and clean the veins and seeds, dry-roast some walnuts and clean and dry a small handful of flat-leaf parsley (you’ll need twenty smallish leaves, for the twenty smallish pepper halves).

Once the peppers are cleaned and cut (and I cut off the stem area on my peppers, which was probably a mistake, as it made them way less finger-foodey and way more in need of a knife and fork, so if you make them try and preserve the stem cap)…

Ready to receive.

…stuff ’em.  Yogurt, then jalapeno, then tuck some parsley into the side.  Sprinkle the tops with toasted walnuts and drizzle them with honey.

Lookit the cute little guy, just waiting to be consumed. I think this was the first one I ate. 🙂

Plenty for you and your paramour to feast upon.

These little pockets of peppery love hit all sorts of flavor points–they’re sweet, hot, aromatic, fresh from the parsley and grounded thanks to the toasty walnuts.  They’re not difficult by any means, they just require time.  But MAN, are they ever worth it.  Enjoy!

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