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Citrus Lavender Creme Brulee

Spring weather is finally here! We’ve arrived at that sweet spot in the season where I can throw open the windows and let the fresh air flow through, and it’s not so hot that a little baking will heat up the whole apartment. My oven is seeing fewer pots for braising, and more muffin tins and sheet trays these days. I’ve been on a citrus kick recently and I’m fueled by an economy-sized bag of limes from Costco that I’ve nearly finished in about a week.

I’ve also been doing a bit of spring cleaning in the cupboards and stumbled across some lavender sugar I made last fall as I pulled up roots in preparation for our move out East.

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In some of my earliest posts on Beth’s Bites, I spent a lot of time finding uses for the explosion of herbs coming out of my garden. At one point, I had so much lavender, the best I could do was hang them to dry and store them in glass containers for future use. Right before the move, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and combined some of the lavender with some extra sugar I had laying around. I stirred them together, bottled it up, and packed it away. When we moved to our new place in Vermont, it got shoved in the back of the cupboard and wasn’t removed again until earlier this week. It was beautifully fragrant, but I couldn’t think of a good use for it. Until I did.

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Citrus Lavender Creme Brulee

I’ve played around with lavender creme brulee before, but it always seemed a bit one-dimensional. It was light and floral, which was OK, but I wanted a bit more depth. As it turns out, a little zest was exactly what this dessert needed. When you take a bite, citrus dances on your tongue while the aroma of lavender floats through your sinuses. The initial crunch of caramelized sugar gives way to a creamy custard that melts in your mouth.  It’s a dessert to engage all of the senses.

You can make your own lavender sugar by combining about a cup of sugar and 2 tbsp of food-grade lavender buds and let that sit for at least a week. The longer the better. If you want to enjoy this a little sooner, you can steep 1 tsp of buds with the lime zest as you’re heating the cream.

Ingredients:

6 egg yolks

2 1/2 cups cream

zest from 1 lime

1/2 cup lavender sugar + extra for caramelizing at the end

Pre-heat the oven to 300.

In a medium saucepot, bring the cream and zest to a simmer over medium heat.

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While that is heating, whip the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until the sugar has dissolved and the yolk is pale and thick

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Once the cream comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat, and strain into a bowl. Slowly pour and whisk the hot cream in to the egg and sugar mix to temper the custard. At this point, dip a spoon into the custard. If it’s thick enough to coat the back, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If it’s still a bit thin, return the custard to the same saucepot you used to warm the cream and heat on low, whisking constantly, until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and hold a line when you draw your finger across it.

Pour the custard into the ramekins of your choice. Size doesn’t really matter as long as you fill them to approximately the same depth.

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Place the filled ramekins in a deep roasting pan and place on a rack in the middle of the oven. Fill the pan with hot water until it reaches about halfway up the side of the shallowest ramekins. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, or until the custard sets. Just give the roasting pan a jiggle to check. If the custard sloshes around, let them go longer. If they jiggle like firm Jell-O, they’re ready!

Remove the pan from the oven, then using tongs, place the ramekins on the countertop to cool. Once cool to the touch, about 30 minutes, place them in the fridge for at least 2 hours to firm and completely cool before serving.

To brulee, sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of lavender sugar on top of the cooled custards and tip the ramekin in all directions to coat.

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You can use a kitchen torch or a broiler to brown the top, just keep in mind that if you are using the broiler, you want to be careful not to heat up the custard too much. Place the ramekins as close to the heat source as possible, and don’t leave it in for more than 45 seconds!

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I hope you all enjoy this as much as we did! See you next week.

Love, Beth

Pistachio Falafel and the First Signs of Spring!

It’s good to be back!

As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been gone for a while, but it’s given me time to think and brainstorm new ideas. Now that I’m working at Hen of the Wood I’m exposed to a lot of really great food, and the creative processes that work together to sculpt new menus daily. As we ease into the growing season in Vermont, we’re beginning to see some beautiful fresh produce rolling through the restaurant doors.  I have to give Vermonters credit; this spring has been bitingly cold, but they’ve perfected the art of greenhouse growing and despite inhospitable conditions outside, it hasn’t stopped farmers from kicking off the season. It’ll be a little longer still before the farmer’s market starts up, so I’ll have a couple more weeks of winter foods, which is fine considering Wednesday’s high is supposed to be in the 30′s (This weather is seriously testing my patience).

A while back, Anden went through my cookbooks and marked recipes he liked so I could try something new when I was feeling uninspired, not an unusual occurrence these last few months. One recipe in particular from Vegetarian Everyday caught my eye: Pistachio Falafel. After scanning the recipe I decided to make a few modifications, and came up with this dish.

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Pistachio Falafel with Avocado Tzatziki and Homemade Pita

The original recipe was a long list of ingredients, but the ratios were solid enough to hold up to simplification and still pack a lot of flavor. I opted to switch out the suggested cashew nut dressing for a creamy sauce of my own creation, and as much as I wanted to be healthy and use cabbage leaves, nothing beats fresh pita bread.

We’ll take this step by step, starting with the falafel.

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Ingredients:

2 cups shelled pistachios

1, 15oz can garbanzo beans, drained

1 small onion, peeled, root end cut off, and sliced in quarters

2 tbsp cooking oil (I used grapeseed, but feel free to use something milder, like canola)

1 tbsp quinoa flour (or other gluten free flour)

salt to taste

If you can, buy pre-shelled pistachios. It’s a little more expensive, but it certainly beats shelling for an hour to make dinner.

In a large food processor, pulse the pistachios until crumbled

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Then add the chickpeas and the onion

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and your cooking oil of choice. I love grapeseed oil for its mild taste, beautiful color, and high Omega-6 content.

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Blend these together until they form a sticky paste. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed. Most pre-shelled pistachios come roasted and salted, so you may not need any extra salt. Add the quinoa flour blend until combined. The falafel dough should start forming into a solid mass as it goes around.

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Test the dough by rolling a small bit in your hands to form a ball. It will be a little sticky, but should roll easily into a smooth, solid piece.

When your dough is ready, roll it into 1 1/2 inch balls, then flatten them slightly to make fat disks. Flattening the balls will ensure more even cooking.

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At this point, you can either cook them off now, or store them between parchment paper in your fridge and cook them as needed. This is a great prepare-ahead meal and it heats up in a flash. You can bake or fry these and both methods will give a moist, flavorful falafel.

If baking:

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Place the falafel on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, flipping halfway.

If frying:

Heat an oil with a high smoke point (like canola) to 350 degrees in a heavy bottomed pan (like stainless steel or cast iron). Use enough oil to fill the pan with about an inch. Test the oil with a small piece of dough. If it begins to bubble immediately when dropped, the oil is ready! Working in batches, fry the falafel until browned on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a dish lined with paper towel to absorb extra oil.

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As I mentioned, both cooking methods work really well. There will be some color differences; the falafel on the right was baked, while those on the left were fried. The frying method is definitely much faster, but if storing these guys in the fridge before cooking, I would recommend the baking method, as the short frying time isn’t enough to heat the falafel all the way through.

For serving, I recommend this tasty sauce.

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Tangy Avocado Tzatziki Sauce

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a tzatziki, but a simple creamy yogurt sauce. Either way, it pairs beautifully with the nutty falafel. You need only four ingredients.

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Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado

1 cup greek-style yogurt

2 radishes

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

I am a fan of low fat Greek yogurt, but I prefer 2% to fat free because that little extra bit of creaminess goes a long way. To make the sauce, score the avocado and scoop into a small food processor. Add the Greek yogurt and blend until smooth. The radishes add a nice speckle of color and a bit of spice (If in season! The winter versions can be a bit bland). Give these a slice before throwing them in the food processor to get a nice shred rather than awkward chunks. Add the salt and pulse until combined

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Now for that pita bread. Of course, you are more than welcome to run to the grocery store and buy some pita bread, but if you’ve ever wanted to try making your own, I would recommend this recipe. I found it in a book given to me by Anden’s mom. It’s called Extending the Table, by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, and it’s got great dishes and stories from around the world. When looking for a recipe, I wanted to find one in my extensive cookbook collection, rather than consult the internet (as I am wont to do) and this one is a winner.

DSC_0093 (2)Pita Bread (From Extending the Table)

Makes 6

Ingredients:

1/2 tbsp instant yeast

1 cup warm water

1/2 tbsp oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until satiny smooth, about 10 minutes.

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Mix until well combined

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After 5 mins of kneading. Smoother, but still lumpy.

After 10 mins of kneading. Soft and smooth.

After 10 mins of kneading. Soft and smooth.

Let rest in a lightly grease bowl covered in plastic wrap for 45 minutes. Turn out onto a clean surface, punch down the dough, and divide into 6 equal pieces. Round and flatten slightly. DSC_0055 (2) DSC_0056 (2) DSC_0057 (2) Cover with a layer of plastic wrap (reuse if you can!) and preheat the oven to 450 with a cookie sheet inside. This step is really important! You’ll place the dough directly onto the hot cookie sheet to bake. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Roll each round into 6 inch disks. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour if you need to, to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. DSC_0064 (2)   Now for the fun part! Working two at a time, carefully lay the dough on the hot cookie sheets. Lay it down carefully, because once it hits the hot pan, there is no adjusting. Bake 3-4 minutes until puffed, then flip with a spatula and let brown on the other side for about 2 more minutes.

I've staggered the timing on these two to show the different stages. In the back, the pita has bee flipped and is nice and puffed. in the front, the pita needs another minute or so before flipping.

I’ve staggered the timing on these two to show the different stages. In the back, the pita has been flipped and is nice and puffed. The pita in the front needs another minute or so before flipping.

As you pull the pita out of the oven, layer them in a kitchen towel to keep them soft. DSC_0069 (2)The directions sound a little complicated at first, but once you get going, it’s much easier than it looks!

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Enjoy with reckless abandon!

I loved including a few more pictures than usual, and my new camera makes it really easy to snap away. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments in the section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next week, keep calm and cook on.

Love, Beth

Quick Update!

Posted on

It’s been a very long time since I last updated and quite a bit has happened since then! Sometime between Christmas and mid-January, I was starting to feel the strain. Between school, work as a tutor, and the frenzied, stressful search for an internship in the Spring, I sort of shut down. I was so focused on perfecting techniques and understanding methods, that I found it much more difficult than usual to create.

I searched for inspiration in recipes from favorite cookbooks, I scribbled notes on menus from potential internship sites, but nothing was really clicking. I was uninspired and deeply unimpressed with what I was creating at home. So I took a break. I enjoyed my time with Anden, got closer with some of the students in my block at school, and focused on securing an internship. Today, I’m proud to announce that I have begun my six month internship at Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, VT! Hen-of-the-Wood I really wanted to find a restaurant that shared my farm to table values and would inspire and challenge me creatively. I found everything I could hope for and more in Chef John David and Hen. The menu is constantly changing based on availability of ingredients from local farms. They had Anden and I for dinner back in February and we were blown away by the presentation and quality of dishes. At the time, I thought about taking some pictures, but decided I didn’t want to be *that* person in the dining room, and just enjoyed the food instead. Now that I’m looking back, I wish I had taken more pictures to share with everyone, but I’ll have six months to catch up!

In other exciting news, I recently expanded my kitchen! DSCN3420 Thanks to the organizational geniuses at Ikea, things have finally come together and I’m really happy with the final product. With an extra shelf, I can finally free up some space on top of my fridge and in the cabinets. It was getting a little scary up there.

One final thing before we return next Monday (I know, how could there possibly be more?): I got a new camera! I’ve been eyeing a DSLR since about October and at long last, I’m snapping new pictures with it. I actually have a few new recipes lined up, so you can expect something next week!

See you then!

Love, Beth

A New Way to Salad

Winter produce holds a special place in my heart. It’s true, we may not have juicy, ripe tomatoes, or the sweet, summer berries that warmer weather affords us, but thanks to cool-weather crops like citrus and pomegranate, winter foods don’t always have to weigh you down.

Like many after-holidays online-junkies, I spent an evening with Pinterest and browsed the health and fitness pages to find recipes and workout ideas to lose  the turkey weight. After several “Eat only this for 2 weeks and lose 10 lbs!” impossible posts, I stumbled across something that intrigued me: Warm salads.

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Now, I’ve never been a salad person. I’ll eat them if it comes with the meal, but never in a million years would I consider it a meal in itself. The ideas before me weren’t your everyday cobb and ceasar salads; they had names like “Super-Food Salad with Black Rice” and “Roasted Curried Carrot Salad” These were salads I could get behind, especially in the wake of the Polar Vortex. Finally, something warm and comforting, but most importantly, healthy.

We recently got our CSA box, so I took stock of my pantry and newly acquired veg to come up with a warm salad of my own.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad

This was an easy recipe to do both vegan and gluten-free (just substitute sorghum) and it was immensely satisfying after weeks of over-indulgence. It takes advantage of winter produce and gives healthy, whole-grains a starring role. It was exactly what I needed, and bonus, if traditional cold salads are more your thing, this is really great the next day at work, no heating required.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup hard wheat berries (or sorghum for GF)

2 cups water

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 lb Brussels sprouts

3 tbsp coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup pomegranate arils

1/3 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped

zest from 1/2 an orange

For the dressing:

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste

Begin by bringing the wheat, water, and tablespoon of salt to a gentle boil in a small pot. Once at a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until al dente, about 45 minutes. If you’re going gluten-free, simmer the sorghum for about 30 minutes, testing as you go in the last ten minutes or so of cooking.

While the grains are going, pre-heat the oven to 425. Slice the stems off the Brussels sprouts and cut into quarters, removing any dirty or yellowed leaves. Place in a 9×13 pan and pour the melted coconut oil over the sprouts. Toss with a wooden spoon to coat and sprinkle with a little kosher salt to taste.

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Roast for about 15-20 minutes, tossing with a wooden spoon about halfway through, until soft and nicely browned.

While the sprouts are roasting and the grains are simmering,this is the time to peel the pomegranate. If you bought a container of arils all ready to go, you can happily skip this step and move on to chopping the hazelnuts.

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Give them a very rough chop, and dry toast them in a saute pan until golden.

Once the grains are soft and the Brussels sprouts golden, it’s time to assemble. Add all but the dressing ingredients into a large bowl and toss to combine.

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Right before serving, shake together the dressing ingredients and pour over each plate.

I love the toasted, nutty taste of this so-called salad, and the different textures at play worked well together. If you’re saving this for tomorrow, go ahead and shake together the dressing ingredients, pour over the whole salad and toss it a bit before putting it in your favorite storage container for lunch. Unlike other day-before salads, you don’t have to worry about this one getting soggy on you!

Today’s post marks my return to regular updates, so barring any unforseen circumstances that might prevent me from doing so, I will see you all next week!

Love, Beth.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

It took a couple of tries, but I think I’ve got it figured out. Since my baking class, I’ve wanted to try my own caramel sauce. Now that Thanksgiving has passed and I’ve allowed myself to get in the Christmas spirit, I wanted something a more…exciting than plain old caramel. I wanted something to mirror the season; a dessert to share with family and friends. This was my idea. DSCN3218

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

This recipe began with a spiced cream and a bit of molasses. The spice was nice, but didn’t shine through the finished product as well as I thought it would. It was delicious, but it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. As I was lying in bed on Sunday night and thinking about this recipe, I was unhappy. I had a certain taste in mind, but I hadn’t yet achieved it and it was bothering me. I played around with a few scenarios in my head until the solution hit me. I only needed more time to test out my theory. The end product was exactly what I had hoped for: A noticeable taste of ginger, but the spice was mellowed by the rich caramel, and a hint of molasses that transformed the finished sauce into liquid gingerbread. Now that I’ve nailed down the taste I wanted, there is still some tweaking required to make the recipe fool-proof. With that in mind, I have a few ideas that I’ll share at the end of the instructions. The recipe I’m sharing below does work, though it requires a bit more attention to keep it from crystallizing. The suggestions I’ll list have not been tested, so if you do try them, please let me know how it turned out!

Ingredients:

Ginger syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar

4 oz fresh ginger

3 cups water

Caramel: 1/2 cup ginger syrup

2 cups granulated sugar

1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream

1/2 tbsp unsulphered molasses

The recipe for ginger syrup will make roughly 3x more syrup than you need for the caramel. This is done intentionally. I messed up the first batch and my sugar crystallized and I needed more ginger syrup to do it over again. Never go without back up! You may do it perfectly the first time and not need it. If that’s the case, it goes really well with gin. To make the ginger syrup, cut the ginger into disks, then into matchsticks. Don’t worry about peeling. DSCN3245DSCN3247 Combine the ginger with the sugar and water in a heavy-bottom saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat for about an hour, or until the volume has reduced by half. Strain the syrup through a fine-meshed sieve and discard the ginger. This can be done ahead of time and the syrup can be stored in the fridge for about a week. To make the caramel, combine the ginger syrup and sugar in a 4-qt, heavy-bottomed, non-reactionary (stainless steel) sauce pot. BEFORE you begin to heat the sugar, use a pastry brush to wipe the sides of the pot down with water to clean off the sugar granules that stick to the sides as you mix. Missing this step was my mistake the first time around. Because I used the ginger syrup instead of water, the granulated sugar stuck to the pot easily and created seed crystals that ruined the first batch. DSCN3162 Heat the sugar and ginger syrup over med-high heat until the sugar turns a dark, golden color. Do not stir. If you see any rogue sugar crystals, vanquish them with water and a pastry brush. Just remember that the more you water it down, the longer the sugar will take to caramelize, so don’t overdo it! DSCN3164 Once the sugar has darkened, remove the pot from the heat and and slowly add the cream. Let it bubble for a little bit before you whisk it. If you try to whisk it right away, you’ll risk spattering and burns. DSCN3165 DSCN3166 Slowly whisk in the rest of the cream, allowing it to bubble a bit between additions. DSCN3169Once you’ve whisked in all of the cream, you can let it sit and cool, or pour it directly into a pre-heated, clean, glass container. DSCN3224My idea to make the process a bit easier (and a little more difficult for the sugar crystals to stick to the side of the pan) is to make a strong ginger tea rather than a syrup. This way, you get the noticeable ginger taste, without the stickiness of the syrup at the beginning. If you were to do so, up the added sugar to 2.5 cups, rather than just 2.

That’s all for this week. Next week I’ll be in Florida to visit my family for Christmas!

Because I’ll be out of town and away from my kitchen, I do not plan to post my regular Monday updates over the holidays. If I can gather enough pictures from class and of holiday food, you may see random updates at other times during the weeks ahead. If you don’t hear from me before then, I’ll see you all after the New Year!

A slight delay

Good morning, everyone!

I was all set to publish today, I even had most of it written down before I went to bed last night. As I was laying in bed, thinking over my to do list, and reflecting on the post for today, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the recipe and was weighing my options. I had an idea and realized that I wanted to try something else with it before I shared it with the world.

I regret not having a back up post for today, so for now, I will have to leave you with this teaser.

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I should have everything worked out by Wednesday at the very latest, and I hope to deliver the best possible product for you then!

Five Reasons to Grill Your Turkey

This year we decided to try something a little different and grill our turkey.

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It’s an idea I got from a cookbook called The Thanksgiving Table and it solved many of our kitchen problems leading up to turkey day. If we had done Thanksgiving in our kitchen, there is no way the bird would have fit in the oven. When we decided to move the party to the B&B, the oven broke down and the only one available was a toaster oven. I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical and nervous about how it would turn out, but I didn’t have many other choices, so I plunged forward. Read the rest of this entry

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