Tag Archives: spring-summer

Happy Mother’s Day! (and Lavender Teacookies)

8 May

My mother is a poem
I’ll never be able to write,
though everything I write
is a poem to my mother.
-Sharon Doubiago

Recipe source: Mom

Today’s blog is dedicated to my mom, who gave me this recipe, to thank her for loving weird ingredients like lavender as much as I do! (In case you missed it, also check out her fab lavender lemonade.)

Green Acres Lavender Farm
As I write this, the side door is open and a soft, cool spring breeze is rustling the leaves. Birds are chirping, and I’m thinking about how perfect these cookies are for this time of year. Like all great butter cookies, they have a light and crumbly texture, and a faint sweetness. The floral touch makes them elegant and unusual. And while I’m not especially talented when it comes to decorating, for more creative types, they are a blank canvas for icing. I personally enjoy a simple glaze on these, but the lavender-infused powdered sugar could easily be incorporated into a royal icing. In fact, I’ve adapted a royal icing recipe here for you to try, if your little heart so desires.

The dough for these cookies can be made a day ahead, which is convenient, since the powdered sugar for icing needs to mingle with lavender flowers for at least that long. Otherwise, this is a pretty simple recipe to throw together.

lavender flowers

You will start by smashing culinary lavender flowers with a mortar and pestle, or the back of a spoon. This is crucial to releasing the essential oils in the bud. Mix the flowers with powdered sugar and let it infuse in a plastic bag for at least a day. To make the cookie dough, cream together butter, sugar, more lavender flowers, vanilla extract and lemon extract.

butter mixture

Believe me when I say this is some of the most delicious butter you will ever taste.

lavender butter

Next mix in flour and salt, and refrigerate to firm up, about two hours. If you opt to refrigerate overnight, you may need to let the dough warm up a bit before rolling. Then roll out on a lightly floured surface as you would a standard sugar cookie, and cut into desired shapes. I went for “springy” shapes this time – a bunny, a chickadee, a fish and an elephant. Hey, how’d that last one get in there?

dough cutouts

The lavender flowers in this dough make it really interesting visually. You might notice some of them popping out of your shapes in unexpected ways… I caught one of my bunnies relieving himself and another sprouting whiskers! Feel free to pluck out any flowers that may be awkward to your design, and throw them back into the dough for the next roll.

chickies

Since these cookies aren’t incredibly sweet, I feel the glaze is necessary. Plus I love the smooth, hardened look it gives them. The glazing is easy to do with a basic dinner spoon. Let it dry for several hours or overnight to harden, and enjoy this delicate treat, preferably on a delicate kind of mid-morning Saturday, maybe with a little mimosa and jazz on the radio, or whatever makes you feel peaceful.

hearts

RECIPE – Lavender Tea Cookies

1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender flowers
1 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Lavender Glaze (see recipe below)

In a mortar, grind lavender flowers with the pestle. In a medium bowl, cream together ground lavender flowers, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon extract. Add flour and salt; mix until combined (dough should be soft but not sticky.) Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until dough is firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough approximately 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. When cool, top with lavender glaze and/or royal icing (recipes follow).

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Lavender Glaze:
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender flowers
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

In a small plastic bag, combine powdered sugar and dried lavender flowers. Let stand at least 1 day before using. When ready to use, sift the mixture into a medium-size bowl; discarding lavender flowers.

Add milk and corn syrup, mixing well. NOTE: Additional powdered sugar or milk may need to be added (enough milk to make frosting easy to spread). Spread on cooled cookies.

Lavender Royal Icing:
2 egg whites
2 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar
2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender flowers
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

In a small plastic bag, combine powdered sugar and dried lavender flowers. Let stand at least 1 day before using. When ready to use, sift the mixture into a medium-size bowl; discarding lavender flowers.

Beat egg whites in a large bowl with mixer at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and lemon extract. Beat at high speed until thickened. Dries hard.

blessed

Jicama Slaw with Herbacious Spicy Lime Vinaigrette

5 May

Recipe Source: What We’re Eating

scallions, cilantro, mint, jalapeno

I wish I could take credit for the name of this recipe, but alas, I can’t – it comes from a blog I recently stumbled upon via twitter (@whatwereeating), and the tone of the blog is as sassy as this recipe tastes! I love it, and I think you will, too.

If you think salads are mamby-pamby, think again, because this one is not for the faint of heart! THIS ONE is a flavor EXPLOSION! Or you might even like to say it’s like a party in your mouth. The serrano and raw onion give it a spicy kick, the lime juice and tamarind give it a refreshing tart zip, and the honey and jicama lend just enough sweetness to soften and round it out a bit, so no one flavor is overwhelming, but all blend together for an ultra-unique, utterly fabulous mix.

tamarind paste

This salad is a good deal of work to put together, so I reserve it for occasions where I’m going to be serving people. And so long as a lot of people will be noshing on it, I recommend doubling the recipe below. The way this is written, you will have leftover dressing. If you pair the salad with fish, as the original authors suggest, you can spoon the dressing onto the fish as well. Or save it to dress another salad, or use it all if you like soppy salads and living dangerously.

veggies - jicama, carrots, red onion, snow peas

The only modification I made from the original was to cut the amount of red onion in half, because I found it a bit too intense after a day or so. If you have a food processor with a grating blade, this is the time to use it – the jicama and carrots are shredded with perfect, fast uniformity. This is a great dish to take along to an outdoor summer picnic, I hope you’ll enjoy it!

jicama slaw

RECIPE – Jicama Slaw with Herbacious Spicy Lime Vinaigrette

for salad:
2 cups jicama, thinly julienned
1 cup snow peas, thinly julienned
1 cup carrots, thinly julienned
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

for herbacious spicy lime vinaigrette:
1 packed cup cilantro, roughly chopped
3/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
2 green onions, roughly chopped
1 serrano peppers, roughly chopped, (seeded or unseeded depending on how spicy you like it)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and freshly ground (can substitute store bought ground cumin but doesn’t have the same flavor)
1 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp water
2 tsp honey
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup canola oil, depending on how tart you like it
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

make the vinaigrette:
Dissolve the tamarind paste in 2 tbsp of water. Add the tamarind/water mixture, cilantro, mint, green onions, serrano peppers, ground cumin, honey, and lime to a food processor. Process the ingredients until the herbs and peppers have been fully pulverized into tiny little bits. While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the oil to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Taste the dressing and season with salt and pepper as necessary.

assemble the salad:
In a mixing bowl, add the julienned jicama, snow peas, carrots and red onions. Pour about half of the vinaigrette over the julienned veggies then toss to coat. Taste the salad then season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper as necessary. Chill the salad for at least 20 minutes before serving.

This salad goes great with some simply seasoned and seared fish, such as red snapper. Enjoy!

Celebrating one year of the blog (and Earl Gray teacookies)

18 Mar

Recipe source: The Kitchn

On this day last year, I unceremoniously published my first post on Spork, with no introduction, no mission statement, and very little notice to family and friends. I had just lost my job and had time on my hands. The photo quality was horrible and the layout was wordpress default. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this or how long my newfound hobby would last.

And over the past year, this blog has inspired me in so many ways. I’ve been driven to improve the quality of my photography (and photoshop skills – with a long way to go), and been drawn to books and the example of other blogs on food presentation. I’ve loved the challenge of posting a variety of recipes, and planned my own meals around what I think the blog could use. Through the “veg week” theme, I learned to have a more plant-friendly mindset, and have decreased my consumption of animal products ever since.

As I discovered gorgeous new food blogs on a near-daily basis and connected with other bloggers on twitter, a whole world of food enthusiasts unfolded before me. I’ve been inspired by the passion and creativity I’ve seen on these other sites, and how a lot of these bloggers are making a living sharing their love of food with the world.

I still feel that I am but a small blogger, with a free wordpress account, hardly known amid the sea of cooking content on the web. But I love my little hobby nonetheless, and I’m so grateful for all the feedback I have received – from friends in person, from comments on facebook, from my grandmother who is my #1 fan, and from the occasional stranger who finds me on twitter.

Earl Gray teacookies

So in the spirit of Spring and renewal, here is a recipe for a teacookie I love, from one of my favorite cooking blogs. This is called an ‘icebox cookie’ because you can freeze the dough and cut off just as much as you want to bake at any time. It’s a great way to have fresh cookies without having 42 fresh cookies, all by yourself. 🙂

Earl Gray tea

You can make this recipe with any type of tea you like, but I really enjoy the citrusy flavor of Earl Gray that shines through this cookie. In her notes, Ms. Durand recommends using the tea from teabags rather than loose-leaf, saying that it’s surprisingly more flavorful.

food processor cookie dough

The dough takes about two minutes to whip up in the food processor – score!

Earl Gray cookie dough

Once the dough has a nice, crumbly texture, you will turn it out on a sheet of wax or parchment paper and form it into a log. Chill for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready to bake. The cookies will crisp up beautifully in a 375-degree oven after about 12 minutes.

I'm a little teapot, short and stout :)

Enjoy with a piping hot cup of tea. Hmmm… I wonder what flavor you’ll choose?

RECIPE – Earl Grey Tea Cookies
makes 2 dozen

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pulse together all the dry ingredients in a food processor until the tea leaves are pulverized.

Add vanilla, water, and butter. Pulse together until a dough is formed. Form the dough into a log onto a piece of wax or parchment paper. Wrap the paper around and roll the log smooth. Freeze now, or chill for at least 30 minutes.
When chilled, slice the log into 1/3 inch thick pieces. Place on baking sheets and bake until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

*One would think that expensive loose leaf tea would be best in this recipe. But I’ve actually gotten the best flavor with tea from cheap bags that I’ve ripped open. I think the leaves are more fine and flaky.

Crunchy Oriental Chicken Salad

28 Sep

Recipe source: my friend Stephanie

Here’s a new favorite salad recipe, thanks to my Gourmet Friend Stephanie. She made this for our summer picnic potluck, and I was so excited she did, because I’d had something similar at our July 4th picnic, but forgot to ask that friend for his recipe.

This isn’t exactly what I’d call a *healthy* salad, due to the sodium content in the ramen spice packet and sugar in the dressing. But, we can’t always be healthy, can we? Time to accept the facts of life.

I love this picnic for a potluck or just on a hot day. Like this past weekend, for example… after a summer of weak low-70s weather, our Fall is kicking off with a heat wave of 100+ temperatures. So, salad time!

To start out, you’ll need to cook a chicken breast. You can do this any way you like, really, but I’m a fan of shredded chicken. To accomplish this, I filet my chicken breast, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cook through in a pan with a little oil over medium heat, then pull with a fork along the natural lines of the breast.

shredded chicken
The next step is to cook the ramen noodles. They should be very finely chopped. The first time I made this salad, I crumbled it all apart with my bare hands, which, wimpy though it is to say, made my hands a bit sore. The next time, I put the block in a large mixing bowl and crushed the life out of it with a dough cutter. It worked great!

Once you have attained fine bits of ramen, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan, dissolve in the ramen seasoning packet, then add the noodles and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple minutes. Then toss in 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds and stir it some more.

Ramen noodles
Remove the ramen mixture from heat and allow it to cool. In the meantime, prepare a dressing of white wine vinegar, vegetable oil, sugar, and pepper. Toss the chicken and ramen mixture with the dressing, along with coleslaw mix, dry-roasted peanuts and green onions.

Light, crunchy, delicious. YUM!

crunchy oriental chicken salad

RECIPE – Crunchy Oriental Chicken Salad

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 package (3 ounces) Oriental-flavor ramen noodle soup mix
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups cut-up cooked chicken
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
4 medium green onions, sliced (1/4 cup)
1 bag (16 ounces) coleslaw mix (or chop your own cabbage and carrots)

Melt butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Stir in seasoning packet from noodles.

Break block of noodles into fine pieces over skillet; stir noodles into butter mixture. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly; stir in sesame seed. Cook about 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly, until noodles are golden brown.

Mix sugar, vinegar, oil and pepper in large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss. Toss in noodle mixture just before serving.

Lillian’s Lavender Lemonade

19 Jul

“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors
and furniture polish is made from real lemons.”  -Alfred E. Newman

Recipe source: my mother

lemons

As a follow-up to my last post on summery picnic foods, I bring you my mother’s lavender lemonade. Two summers ago, we took a trip to Green Acres Lavender Farm in Atascadero, CA and my mom picked up two lavender plants that are doing very well today. She came up with this recipe as a way to use some of the flowers. What brilliance! (Jump to recipe)

lavender & bee

The thing that makes this lemonade a lavender lemonade is a simple syrup infused with lavender flowers. I think making infusions is a really neat thing in cooking, because it’s so easy but brings out so much flavor, and you can create some of the same things at home on the cheap that you would pay a high price for in a gourmet market. (See my post on rosemary popcorn for another example.)

dried lavender

First, make a syrup by boiling 2 1/2 cups of filtered water, then removing from heat and stirring in 1/2 cup of sugar until it dissolves. Then add 1 tablespoon of lavender, cover, and leave to infuse 30 minutes.

lavender infusion

While the lavender is releasing all its floral goodness, squeeze enough lemons into a 2 qt pitcher for 1 cup of juice. I’d recommend Myer lemons for this, if you can get your hands on some.

juicing lemons

Strain lavender and add syrup to lemon juice, then top with water to fill pitcher.

Depending on the tartness of your lemons, you may want more or less sweetness from the syrup. If you’re concerned about too much sweetness, add the syrup gradually. If anything, you will most likely want more sweetness. In that case, you can add plain simple syrup, which I’d recommend having on-hand anyway, as it’s great for mixing into all sorts of beverages. You can make a simple syrup by dissolving 1 part sugar into 1 part water.

This lavender-infused syrup is also great for mixing into tea, sparkling water, or cocktails. In the case of tea, I prefer a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, but you’ll figure out your preferences as you go.

Enjoy this one, and happy summer!

chairs in lavender field

Note for San Diegans: I found my culinary lavender at a great little herb shop in Ocean Beach, In Harmony Herbs & Spices. I have also seen it at World Market, and I’d imagine Whole Foods carries it as well.

RECIPE – Lillian’s Lavender Lemonade

2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
Icewater to fill pitcher (4 cups)

Dissolve sugar in boiling water. Add lavender flowers, remove from heat, and cover. Allow lavender to steep in syrup for 15 minutes to an hour, depending on desired strength. Combine lavender syrup with lemon juice in a large pitcher and fill remaining space with icewater.

VARIATIONS –

Make lavender iced tea by mixing lavender-infused simple syrup (1 pt water, 1 pt sugar) with freshly brewed black tea.

Mix lavender simple syrup into lemon sparkling water or use it to sweeten cocktails.

Saffron, Zucchini and Herb Couscous

4 May

Recipe source: Ina Garten of Food Network

The second dish I made for the aforementioned winery picnic was Ina Garten’s couscous. It’s pretty simple to make and a nice side dish with subtle flavors. I think it would be best paired with fish or a mild grilled chicken. I halved the amount of herbs based on complaints from reviewers on foodnetwork.com, but otherwise followed the recipe to a tee.

Here’s a pic!

couscous
RECIPE – Saffron, Zucchini and Herb Couscous

1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 zucchini, large dice
1 1/2 cups couscous (10 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a small saucepan, and turn off the heat. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, and saffron threads and allow to steep for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Bring the chicken stock just back to a boil. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add the cooked zucchini. Pour the hot chicken stock over them. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Add the basil and parsley. Toss the couscous and herbs with a fork, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Citrus Salad with Lemongrass Syrup

2 May

Recipe source: The Kitchn

Promo! I got this recipe from a new favorite food and lifestyle site, The Kitchn (see link above). I love their recipes and tips, and the writing style is fun and down-to-earth. The design of their site is really unique in the way they use pictures, and some of the pictures themselves are inspiring ideas of things I’d like to do creatively. They also have tips and contests on home decorating, focusing on design for small spaces, and ways to be environmental with your living space, repurpose old items, make crafts, etc… sheesh, you’d think they’re paying me for this. Enough of my gushing review, just go check them out! 🙂

So I chose this recipe to share with friends on a picnic at Belle Marie Winery.  It fit my qualifications of late – combining several different flavors for a taste I wouldn’t be familiar with, being “gourmetish” (hellooo, vanilla bean!), and most
importantly for this occasion, cold, portable and healthy. I also learned a couple new things along the way.

oroblanco
Peeps, I had no idea what an oroblanco was before this recipe. For your information, it is a white grapefruit. And not easy to find. After baffling the produce staff of a few local markets, I finally found these and the lemongrass at Whole Foods. For whatever smack I may talk about Whole Foods (aka “Whole Paycheck”), God love ’em for carrying some exotic sh*t.

I also learned what lemongrass looks like, and the various ways to process it. (See this article from The Kitchn for more info.) The recipe called for bruising the lemongrass, but I pretty much murdered it… I cracked it in about a bazillion places so I could really be sure the flavor would come out. Next time I think I’ll just grate it with a microplane.

Anyhoo, the basics of this recipe are a combination of oranges and red and white grapefruit, tossed with a syrup made of citrus juice, honey, lemongrass and vanilla bean, and garnished with lime zest and mint. The tart flavors in the syrup, combined with the creaminess of the vanilla bean was truly amazing. This salad got rave reviews from my friends, so I will definitely be making it again! Next time I’ll make extra syrup to mix in cocktails, ooh la la…

citrus salad with lemongrass syrup
RECIPE – Citrus Salad with Lemongrass Syrup

1/2 pink or red grapefruit per person, segmented, juice reserved
1/2 oroblanco per person, segmented, juice reserved
1/2 navel orange per person, segmented, juice reserved
1/2 cup honey
2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, cut into 2-inch pieces and bruised
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Zest of 1 lime
Mint leaves for garnish

Combine the citrus segments in a bowl. Cover and chill.

In a small saucepan, mix 1/2 cup reserved citrus juice (top off with water if necessary) with honey, lemongrass, and vanilla pod and seeds. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and simmer until honey is dissolved. Remove from heat and let stand 30 minutes. Strain.

Divide citrus segments among serving dishes. Drizzle with syrup and garnish with lime zest and mint.

Notes:
Although pink or red grapefruit is highly recommended, feel free to make substitutions for this and the other citrus varieties and quantities.

This recipe makes enough syrup for about 8 servings. Store any leftover syrup in the refrigerator for up to a week and use it in soda water, mixed drinks, etc.