Goose Fat and Blackberry Shortbread

This year, I got what just might be the greatest birthday gift of all: a jar of goose fat! I used some of it to fry potatoes for a German meal, but was unsure with how to use the rest of it up. I wanted to put it in pastry, but the texture is such that some pastries were out of the question. After some serious soul searching, I felt that the best way to use my goose fat would be in tandem with the blackberry jam I made from last week’s berry picking experience. The result: shortbread with a light, flaky texture and an incredibly rich sweet and savory flavor. I’ll definitely be making these again (if anyone ever has extra goose or duck fat they want to send my way, I would be most appreciative).

1/2 c goose fat
2 tbsp turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4  c granulated sugar
3 tbsp butter, softened
2 1/2 c flour (this may be a bit more or less depending on the texture of the fat, the humidity in the air, etc.)
blackberry jam (about 1/4-1/3 cup)

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Cream together all ingredients but the flour and jam using a mixer.
-Gradually add the flour until the dough is very stiff and almost crumbly, but still holds its shape.
-Pinch off about 1 tbsp – 1 1/2 tbsp of dough and shape into a circle with your hands. Depress the center a bit so you have a place to put the jam. Place on a greased cookie sheet.
-Repeat with the rest of the dough.
-Spoon a small amount of jam into the depressions in each cookie.
-Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until they just begin to turn golden (you don’t want to overcook them).

Candied Violets

When I was a kid, my mom and I would candy violets every spring. We would eat them by themselves or use them as decorations (they are cute on cakes). I started some seeds a while back and just harvested a tiny handful of violets, so I decided I would candy them! Here’s how to do it:

Candied Violets
1 egg white
sugar
violets (washed and completely dried)

-Sprinkle a layer of sugar on a plate.
-(Very) carefully paint the egg white on the flowers (I usually just do the fronts, if you’re brave you do the backs too). I use my finger for this because it gives me the most control, but you could use a small paint brush too.
-Set the flower painted side down in the sugar, making sure all the painted surfaces are covered.
-Let the flowers dry.
-That’s it!

 

Chocolate and Herb Pots de Creme

I’ve recently purchased a bunch of really delicious eggs from a local farmer, and am trying to figure out creative ways to use them up. Custards always spring to mind, but when I went to the fridge I found that the things that would make a normal pot de creme were not all present. Instead, I improvised for the dairy using some of my homemade yogurt and it turned out really well! Slightly less sweet and slightly more tangy than your average chocolate custard. And of course, because I’m obsessed with putting herbs in everything, I had to put some in my dessert too. I decided to try a little experiment with this recipe after they were in the oven, and thought I would turn them into creme brulee. I’ve made creme brulee before plenty of times before, but I wondered how it would work with some more flavoring crushed in with the sugar. The verdict? As long as the pieces of herbs/zest/whatever you’re using are small, it should work (I have only tried this once, bear in mind, so while it worked super well with this recipe, I can’t attest to every variation!) I used some lavender buds and some rosemary and ground them up with a mortar and pestle. I added some vanilla sugar (obviously regular ol’ sugar works here), ground a bit more, sprinkled it on my pots de creme, torched it*, and voila!
*I have a propane torch specifically for these kinds of tasks. You can get them at the hardware store and they are much sturdier than the flimsy ‘culinary torches.’ If you don’t have one, I hear that putting the cremes under the broiler works well too.

Chocolate and herb pots de creme
3 eggs
1/2 c plain yogurt
pinch salt
4-5 oz semi-sweet chocolate (either chips or a bar that’s been broken up)
1 tsp lavender flowers
1 small sprig fresh rosemary

-Heat oven to 350.
-Beat eggs and add to a pot with the other ingredients.
-Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it simmers and thickens considerably.
-Strain out the rosemary sprig and lavender, and pour the mixture in to small ramekins (it filled 4 of my ramekins, but I have some extra tiny ramekins for some reason so it might just fill 2 of yours).
-Place ramekins in a cake pan or roasting pan with high sides.
-Make a bain marie by pouring hot water into the pan (NOT the ramekins!) until it is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. For this, I usually just fill my kettle before I cook and turn it on a minute or two before the custard is done so it has time to heat up.
-Place in the oven, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick you’d like your custard to be.
-Cool slightly or all the way, and serve.

Herbed sugar (optional)
If you want to turn this into an herbed creme brulee, here is what you do!

1 pinch lavender flowers
1 pinch rosemary leaves
3-4 tbsp vanilla (or regular) sugar
tiny pinch salt

-Place the herbs in a mortar and gently grind with a pestle. Add sugar and salt and continue grinding to mingle everything together.
-Sprinkle on top of your pots de creme when they have cooled slightly.
-Caramelize the sugar using either a torch or broiler (do this immediately before serving).

Valentine’s Day+Sick Day=Cake

Chris and I normally aren’t huge Valentine’s Day folks–we might get each other a little gift, and use the occasion as an excuse to cook a nice dinner or go out to eat, but I at least would rather do things to show Chris I care about him the rest of the year. That being said, today I have been craving cake. I’ve had a cold since yesterday night, and maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been wandering around in a feverish fog this morning, but I got it into my head that a great gift for Chris would be the gift of a cake, which would also help address my chocolate craving.
I was indeed right, further proof of my theory that food is the best gift.
I am too sick to spend much time fussing over building a new cake recipe, so I just pulled one from a cookbook (hence why there isn’t a cake recipe typed below). To make it extra special, I replaced the water in the batter with strong coffee and topped it with chocolate chips before baking. I also baked it in a greased casserole so it’s tall-ish. But that’s all I did differently! Just find a chocolate cake recipe you like, adapt it with the coffee and chips (if you want to), and put it in the oven.
The toppings were the place where I did anything remotely innovative, and represent my attempt to eat some antioxidants while eating my cake (ha!). All I did was make a simple orange glaze like my mom used to make for cakes, and top it with pomegranate seeds. It’s a great way to make a cake look impressive when you’re short on time (or not feeling all that great!)

Chocolate cake with pomegranate and orange
Your favorite chocolate cake recipe
zest of 1 orange
1 c powdered sugar
pinch salt
1-2 tsp milk
seeds from 1 pomegranate

-Prepare cake according to directions (replace liquid with coffee and add chocolate chips, if desired)
-While it bakes, combine sugar, salt, and zest in a bowl. Whisk in milk until it reaches desired consistency.
-After the cake cools, turn in over onto a serving platter. Drizzle with glaze and pile the seeds in the center.
-Serve!

Healthy-ish Chocolate Olive Oil Torte

This recipe all started with a mistake. Having used my heavy cream to make cultured butter, I decided I would try this healthier version of chocolate mousse made with chocolate and water. Turns out, the chocolate I had wasn’t quite right, which meant that I never did get it to hold the air I was so desperately beating into it. Having made a big bowl of chocolate-y water, I thought I might use it to make cake. After glancing through an old Betty Crocker cookbook (the same one my mom gave me when I moved away from home 11 years ago), I decided I would try my hand at chocolate torte. It’s much easier than I thought it would be!

I decided I would make a version that had the option to forgo added sugar, possibly making the recipe a bit healthier and more accesible to people who have to watch their sugar intake. Olive oil in/on chocolate desserts is something I’ve been seeing more of lately, and since I love the combination I used it here too. Adding olive oil in lieu of melted butter probably helps with the healthy-ish thing (although it’s still chocolate dessert, so it’s not as good for you as, say, a pile of veggies). It’s incredibly rich and decadent, probably more so because there is not much sugar in it to dampen the rich chocolate flavor. You can use whatever type of dark chocolate you would like (I used 60% cocoa).

Chocolate Olive Oil Torte

1 c water
1 c + 1 tbsp chocolate (either chips or a bar that’s been broken into small pieces)
4 eggs, separated
pinch sea salt
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (optional)
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil (use the good quality stuff here), plus extra for drizzling
vegetable oil (or olive oil), for the pan
3/4 c flour

-Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Oil a 9″ round pan, line the whole thing with a piece of parchment paper, and rub the parchment paper in oil.
-Pour water into a small saucepan over medium heat; add chocolate pieces.
-Stir until just melted.
-Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Add egg yolks, salt, sugar (if you want), olive oil, and flour.
-Mix until combined and smooth. Set aside.
-Add egg whites to another mixing bowl.
-Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
-Fold the egg whites into the batter until combined.
-Pour the batter into the lined pan.
-Bake for about 25 minutes or until cooked through. Since it’s a torte, a toothpick might not come out completely clean when you test it, but you do want to make sure there’s no liquid batter still in the middle.
-Let cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.
-Invert the pan onto a plate and remove.
-Sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar (if desired).
-To serve, drizzle with homemade chocolate syrup and olive oil, and sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Chai Spice Shortbread Cookies

We had planned to go to a housewarming party yesterday, and I thought I would like to bring over a snack for everyone. I was short on time, though, so it had to be something easy. Thankfully, few cookies are easier than shortbread and you can put whatever you want in them! I love warm spices this time of year (even though it’s not all that cold here in Florida), so decided I would make some spice cookies. I always have all the whole spices for making my own chai (I base it on this recipe), so I decided I would make a chai glaze and add some spices to the cookies themselves. They are delicious! When I made the glaze, I steeped the spices in milk, and made enough extra to have a glass of warm, spiced milk (normal people would add tea to have a chai tea, but I was feeling lazy). I’ve included that extra amount here, since it’s hard to get the spices really good and steeped if you’re only using the couple tablespoons needed for the glaze. If you’re adamantly opposed to drinking spiced milk or tea, you can try just using the small amount of milk, although be prepared to play around a little bit with the amount as some will evaporate.

Chai Spice Shortbread
For the cookies
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 c granulated sugar
about 2 1/2 c flour

-Preheat oven to 350.
-In a bowl, cream together the sugar, salt, spices, and butter.
-Add half the flour and mix. Begin drizzling in remaining flour until it’s the consistency of a stiff dough (the exact amount will depend on humidity and a host of other factors). If your dough gets crumbly, add the tiniest splash (about a tsp) of milk.
-To shape the cookies, you have two options:
-Option 1: Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll it out until it’s 1/2 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies.
-Option 2: Lay 2 pieces plastic wrap down on the counter. You want it to be long and wide enough to roll your dough up. Put half the dough on each piece of plastic (2-3 inches from the top), and shape into a ‘snake’ by gently rolling or pressing the dough. Take the top edge of the plastic and fold it over the dough. Press the dough firmly in the plastic until it’s a uniform round shape. Wrap tightly, refrigerate for half an hour, then unwrap and slice into 1/2 inch thick circles.
-Bake the cookies for about 15-18 minutes or until set and slightly golden.

For the glaze
 8 green cardamom pods, halved
10 cloves
15 peppercorns
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp anise seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
pinch salt
1 1/2 c milk
powdered sugar (about 1 cup)

-In a skillet, toast the spices over medium heat until they are fragrant.
-Add milk and bring just to a simmer. Add salt.
-Turn off the heat and allow the  spices to steep for at least 15 minutes (the longer you let it steep, of course, the more flavorful your milk is).
-Strain the spices out of the milk, and pour the milk into a glass. Reserve 2 tbsp for your glaze.
-Add powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time.  Stir in with a fork after each addition. Keep adding sugar until it’s the consistency you want.
-Drizzle the glaze over cooled cookies.

Watermelon Mojito Sorbet

When going through my recipes, I found this one, which is one of my favorites for summer. It’s crisp and refreshing, and now that we’re in Florida I suspect we’ll be eating it often!

1 cup sugar
4 cups watermelon, seeded
1 cup water
½ tsp lime zest
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp fresh mint
pinch sea salt

-Combine salt, water, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool completely.
-Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
-Add to an ice cream maker as per manufacturer instructions.
-Alternately, you can put it in a rectangular pan about 1 inch deep. Place in freezer, and scrape with a fork every 2 hours until frozen entirely. This will make a granita, which has larger ice crystals with a texture more similar to a snow cone.

Chocolate and Grapefruit Mousse

Chocolate mousse with various add-ins has been a staple for me for some time. It’s easy to make, can be made ahead, and tastes pretty great. I started adding grapefruit after my grandma sent me a box of them a few years ago, and I did the same for our New Year’s dinner this year after picking some grapefruit from grandma’s tree. We ate it all up before I got a picture, but trust me, it’s delicious!

The zest of one grapefruit
1/2 pint whipping cream
2 tbsp half and half
2 ounces of dark or bittersweet chocolate (I used 2 squares of Baker’s chocolate)
pinch salt

-Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

-Make a double boiler by boiling several inches of water in a saucepan and topping with a glass or metal bowl.

-Add chocolate to the bowl, stirring frequently. After it first begins to melt, add half and half and a pinch of salt. Continue stirring until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in citrus zest.

-Carefully fold chocolate mixture into the whipped cream.

-Place the mousse into dessert dishes and chill for at least one hour.

Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies

These cookies are adapted from an old Betty Crocker cookbook recipe for butter cookies. I changed it up to wrap the cookies around cherries and dip them in my favorite chocolate spread (you could also use melted chocolate). I make them around the holidays, but they are great any time of year!

 

¾ c powdered sugar
½ cup margarine or butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 small jar maraschino cherries
1 jar Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)

 

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Place cherries on a towel to drain.
-Cream sugar, margarine, and vanilla in a bowl. Stir in flour and salt until dough holds together (if it becomes dry and crumbly, add 1 to 2 tbsp milk).
-For each cookie, take about a tablespoon of dough and flatten it slightly, and place a cherry inside. Wrap the dough around the cherry, making sure it surrounds the cherry completely.
-Do this for each cookie, until the dough is gone. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake 12 to 15 minutes.
-Remove cookies from oven and let cool slightly. Spread Nutella on top of each cookie like a frosting.

Nutella Tart

This tart is ridiculously easy and requires very few ingredients. Best of all, it’s absolutely delicious.

I have made tart/pie crusts a number of different ways. I know most people use the method where you cut cold, cubed fat into flour, and for years that’s what I did. Then last year I learned a new (and in my opinion, easier) method when I was working on my culinary history project. Basically it involves melting the butter and then incorporating the other ingredients rather than incorporating the cold butter into other ingredients. The pie I made using this method was incredible: the crust was flaky and rich, and was almost foolproof to prepare. Best of all, it’s the way pie crusts used to be made hundreds of years ago, which made me feel like I was connecting with the past through food (I like to do that). When I ran across this post recently, it reminded me of the success I had with the hot butter method and inspired me to create something new.

Either crust recipe will work fine, the first one I used (originally found here) requires egg yolks to be beaten in the flour before a well is made and the hot butter is poured in. This crust is wonderful and flaky. The other crust recipe is equally wonderful, although just slightly more dense. Either would work well, although for this particular tart I used the second recipe since I didn’t have eggs.I spread my crust out on a cookie sheet, but you can also make it closer to the original by putting it in a pan with high sides.

To make the tart, just make the crust and bake it until it begins to turn golden (the recipe calls for 410, I think my oven was actually closer to 400). Remove the crust and allow it to cool. Then all you do it top it with a goodly amount of Nutella and some chopped, toasted hazelnuts (I toast mine in a cast iron pan on the stove). Enjoy!