How To: Lavender-Honey Custard

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One thing you should probably know about me is that I love custard. With a passion. I mean, I love most things egg-related, but custard in particular holds a special place in my heart.

Knowing that, it shouldn’t be too terribly surprising that when I was idly trawling my brain for cool breakfast foods I could enjoy during the summer, I hit upon the idea of breakfast custards. If you lay off the super-rich recipes with lots of cream and stuff–which I love, but which are maybe a little too much first thing in the morning–you’ve got something light, sweet, and with some protein, which is a pretty good combination for me on the days that I ride my bike to work. I need to eat something so that I don’t barf, but I don’t want to get stomach cramps while biking, either.

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As I was thinking, I remembered this recipe, originated by Dorie Greenspan. It’s got a fairly eggy flavor to it, which I don’t mind at all, and it seemed worth tinkering with. I’ve made the lemon flavor before, and it’s very nice, but my first-ever trip to Bi-Rite Creamery over the weekend had me interested in trying a flavor combination they do wonderfully: lavender-honey. I already had an ounce bag of lavender buds bought from a local health food store (which has a spice vault in back, no kidding–it used to be a bank!) that I regularly use in homemade granola, so I tented my fingers, laughed an evil laugh, and made custard.

There were several variables that could have gone really wonky–subbing in some honey for sugar, which increased the liquid content of the mix; baking the custards in a little convection toaster oven, which required me to adjust the cooking time and temperature; and my own predilection for food experiments going awry. But these were pretty good! The lavender flavor was prominent and went well with the delicate milk and egg, and the honey definitely added something that only granulated sugar wouldn’t have. A very nice breakfast indeed, and not a bad dessert, either.

Lavender-Honey Custard (adapted from Baking: From my Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan)

Serves 6 (or one, if you’re the only person in the house who likes custard)

2 1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp dried lavender buds
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey (I used local wildflower honey)

Prepare 6 ramekins or custard cups.

Heat the milk and lavender buds in a small pot; bring to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover, and allow to steep for at least half an hour. Make sure to reheat the milk before starting the next steps.

Preheat your oven to 325F (or 275F for convection). Line a roasting pan with two layers of paper towels, and place the ramekins in the pan. Heat some water in a pot or kettle until it boils, and then turn off the heat.

In a heatproof bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and honey. Strain the lavender-infused milk into a separate bowl to get rid of the lavender buds. Continue to whisk the egg-sugar-honey mixture and mix in a little hot milk at a time so that the eggs don’t curdle. Continue slowly until all the milk is whisked in.

Skim the foam from the custard mixture (I didn’t do this because I’m lazy), and then divide it into the ramekins. Place the roasting pan on the oven rack and pour enough hot water from the pot or teakettle to come halfway up the outsides of the ramekins.

Bake 40-50 minutes (or longer–mine were in the toaster oven probably a good 20-30 minutes more because I was paranoid about undercooking them), or “until they jiggle only in the center when you tap the cups lightly.” (I am not very good at telling when this is; but the tops will be a nice caramel-brown, and if you poke down the side of a clear ramekin with a toothpick, the tunnel will hold its shape somewhat instead of re-liquifying.) Carefully remove the ramekins from the roasting pan–everything’s really hot!–and place them on a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and store in the fridge 2-3 days. Or eat them all immediately, I don’t care. I’m not your mother. Do whatever the heck you want.

How To: Tea-Cured Salmon

(Sorry, veggie-oriented friends; I know I have a history of sharing recipes that involve animals and animal by-products. Next time, okay?)

Thanks to an awesome Twitter friend of mine, I recently came across a recipe for tea-cured salmon. Having never cured anything before in my life, it sounded both frightening and possibly food-poisoning-inducing, so obviously I had to give it a go.

The main thing that this recipe’s got going for it is laziness. Similar to ceviche, you’re making seafood safe (“safe”?) to eat without using any ungodly heat to cook it, and you barely have to get up off the couch to do it. It may already be August here, and we’ve blessedly fallen out of triple-digit temperatures in central California, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still sweating my face off every time I step into the kitchen. So: use the magic transformative powers of salt, and make yourself some got-dang fish!

tea-cured salmon

Tea-Cured Salmon (from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

1 pound fresh skin-on wild salmon (scaled, pin bones removed–I couldn’t find a whole 1-pound piece of fish at the store so I went for two smaller pieces)
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup loose-leaf tea, any variety

Mix the salt, sugar, and tea in a small bowl.

(Note: You can use just about any type of tea you like; if you’re hesitant about using the expensive fancy teas in your cabinet, you could also go through the trouble of cutting open approximately four hundred Lipton black tea bags, just for funzies. I used a mixture of black and white teas, and I honestly couldn’t taste either of them in the final product, which strongly resembles smoked salmon to my palate.)

Take a non-reactive casserole dish or baking pan that will fit the fish and line it with plastic wrap so that several extra inches are hanging off the sides. Shake half the curing mix evenly onto the plastic. Pat the salmon dry and lay it skin-down on the curing mix. Sprinkle the remaining curing mix over the salmon, coating it all over, including the sides.

Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the salmon and wrap it as tightly as you can manage. Place something heavy on the salmon to weigh it down; I used assorted cans of food from the pantry, but a plate or other weighty item would work too. Place in the fridge for three days; if any liquid accumulates, drain it or pat it off, and flip the salmon over once a day.

After three days, rinse off the curing mix and run the salmon thoroughly under water to remove any excess salt. You may have to rinse it again after tasting–it does get quite salty. Pat the salmon dry and place it skin-down on a cutting board. Use your longest, thinnest, sharpest knife to slice the salmon diagonally off the skin. You can see from my picture that I wasn’t very diligent at first, but I started cutting more closely to the skin as I went along; you get more salmon that way, although the fat and the bits closest to the skin do get a bit chewy. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, if it lasts that long.

salad

The recipe’s originator used the salmon to make a Chinese New Year salad called yu shing; I ended up putting it to use in a simple salad of baby greens and arugula, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and rice vinegar. Its similarity to smoked salmon also means it would probably be delicious on a bagel with cream cheese, capers, and thinly-sliced red onion. The texture is smooth and buttery, and the flavor is salty and fishy in a way that some people–people who are not me–probably find kind of repulsive. But hey: you can’t please everybody! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat tea-cured salmon until I grow gills and start swimming upstream.

How To: Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I love ice cream. I mean it: I LOVE ice cream. I like desserts in general, but there’s something special about the cold+sweet thing that ice cream has going on, especially when it’s nearing 100 degrees around here and I barely have the will to go on. Ambient temperature’s only part of, it, though; I even like ice cream when I’m visiting my mom in the chilly vistas of Washington state, where the geese are plentiful and a lovely produce stand down the road famously advertises their “IMMODEST ICE CREAM CONES” for all and sundry to enjoy. (They truly are, too. A single scoop is roughly the size of a baby’s head.)

Really, the one thing I like more than ice cream is homemade ice cream. I don’t make it nearly as often as I’d really like, mainly because the only ice cream maker we have in the house is this little fella, which is a cute novelty but which is kind of a pain in the ass for practical use. No, you don’t necessarily need a fancy-shmancy ice-cream maker to make ice cream, but the last time I tried making matcha frozen yogurt with just a bowl, the freezer, and a spatula for scraping? It took nearly four hours and my roommate and I watched the entire first series of Prime Suspect. I enjoyed watching Helen Mirren kick ass and take names, but I’d rather not repeat the experience if I can help it.

Despite my incessant whining, making ice cream really isn’t that hard, just (sometimes) time-consuming, and you can make it whether you’ve got a bowl and two hands, a silly ice-cream ball with a cracked side so that freezing salty ice-water gushes out every time you roll it, or a really top-of-the-line machine. I promise! Don’t let me scare you off. Plus, the results are almost invariably delicious and will wipe your mind of what an intense ice-cream making ordeal you’ve just been through.

All this to say: I made strawberry ice cream on Sunday. Following a David Lebovitz recipe, of course, because he’s only the frozen desserts master or whatever. Y’know. Perfect Scoop is a lovely cookbook that makes me want to make ice cream once a week for the rest of eternity and never look back.

I did break a cardinal Lebovitz rule by not following the directions to the letter, but what can I say? I’m a rebel. So instead of using a pound of fresh strawberries, I used roughly a pound (I couldn’t find my kitchen scale) of frozen ones, thawed overnight and then macerated with sugar so that they turned into the sweet, sweet strawberry soup you see here. Not viscera, I swear! We’ll cover viscera ice cream next time.

The strawberries and their liquid got thrown in the blender with some heavy cream, low-fat yogurt, and a squirt of lemon juice. The yogurt was supposed to be sour cream, but I opened up my ancient container of sour cream and bad, scary things happened, so I made the last-minute substitute with my fingers crossed.

That all got pulsed a few times until it was a nice pink Pepto-Bismol color. Pretty, ain’t it? I probably could have stood to pulse it fewer times; you’re supposed to end up with a mostly-smooth but still-somewhat-chunky liquid, and my liquid had no chunks at all, more’s the pity.

Man, what an appetizing word: chunk. Second only to loaf in its sheer delicious-sounding-ness.

Anyhow, the goop got poured into my prepped ice cream ball, and I sat through a couple of episodes of Eureka rocking the ice cream ball in pretty much the exact way you don’t want to rock a baby. But I kept spills of both icy water and ice-cream liquid to a minimum, and after about 30-45 minutes I scraped the semi-firm ice cream into a plastic tub and put it in the freezer to finish.

Et voila! Later that night we had our ice cream, sweet and creamy and strawberry-y and basically everything I wanted. The recipe did turn out slightly on the icy side, which I attribute to the low-fat yogurt; with ice cream, you really want to go full-fat as much as possible for a smoother final result. But still, it was good! Better than good, it was ice cream on a hot June night.

I’ve made a couple of recipes so far from Perfect Scoop, like peach, and Mexican chocolate, and raspberry sorbet (and a papaya sorbet that didn’t really turn out, although I think the fault of that lies with the original papaya); one of these days I’ll be a little more adventurous and try something like Roquefort and honey or coconut and saffron, but when the stone fruits finally hit our farmer’s market, you know where I’ll be.

No, the answer’s not on Jupiter, you ignoramuses. I mean, I’ll be in the kitchen, makin’ me some ice cream.

– – –

Strawberry Ice Cream (adapted from David Lebovitz’ recipe)
About 1.25 quarts

1 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled (or ~1 pound frozen strawberries, thawed overnight, if you’re a scrub like me)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring every so often.

Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Add the cream, yogurt and fresh lemon juice. Pulse the machine until the mixture is smooth, but slightly chunky (there’s that word again).

Chill in the fridge for 1 hour, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Eat, and be happy.

Outfit Post: 4/27/12 (Plus: How to Wear a Square Scarf As a Tie)

Button-front: Goodwill (Express) — Skirt: Kathie Lee Collection — Tights: Target — Flats: Thrifted (Born) — Earrings and scarf: Gifts from Katie! — Ring: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Hey, y’all–I’m home from work today and don’t really feel up to writing text to accompany these pictures, so please excuse the wordless interruption. I should be back tomorrow and better than ever. (Oh, and one note? Katie is one of the awesomest folks ever who sent me a bunch of pretty jewelry and scarves–including the scarf and earrings seen here–and stuff and I almost cried.)

How To: Biloxi Spiced Shrimp

Funny thing: the farthest east I’ve ever visited in the United States is Chicago; the next farthest is Tucson, AZ. (I’ve also been in an airport in Washington, D.C. coming back from Germany, but I don’t feel that counts.)

I’m pretty much a western girl; the East and the South mostly elicit feelings of curiosity and apprehension in me. This is largely because I fear the unknown, and the greater part of our country is pretty frickin’ unknown to me. Fortunately, thanks to the combined efforts of my stepmom (from North Carolina) and Mike’s online friend Errol (from Mississippi, living in South Carolina), I no longer feel like Southerners are likely to hate me on sight. These Biloxi spiced shrimp, a recipe shared with us by Errol from an old Mississippian cookbook, make me think I might even like it there.

Anybody else got a regional recipe they’d care to share? Come on, try and woo me to your part of the country with edibles! I’d give you all an authentic local recipe from my hometown, but considering the big street fair of the year there is the Dried Bean Festival…

Biloxi Spiced Shrimp (adapted from Errol’s recipe)

1/2 lb softened butter
2 tbsp Creole seasoning (look for Zatarain’s or Tony Chachere’s) [ed.: We tried Zatarain’s, and it was a bit too salty for my taste. If you can get an authentic Creole spice mix, that would be better.]
2 tbsp lemon pepper
2 tbsp fresh rosemary
1-2 tbsp Tabasco (or more as you like it) [ed. We used 1 tbsp because Michael…well, you know. The spice level was actually pretty good, though.]
2 tsp lemon juice
2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 loaf of French bread

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mash together the butter, Creole seasoning, lemon pepper, rosemary, Tabasco, and lemon juice. Arrange shrimp in a baking dish and spread with seasoned butter. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until bubbling hot. [ed. I checked ours at 6 minutes and had to keep them going until probably 10 minutes–check and stir semi-often after 6 until all shrimp flesh is opaque and firm.] Serve hot with hunks of French bread.

Ta-da!

Outfit Post: 4/1/12 and How To: Skinnify Jeans

Top: Goodwill — Jeans: Hand-me-down from Tia [altered by me] — Cami: Old Navy — Boots: Duo (Ashburn) — Necklace: Hand-me-down — Belt: Thrifted — Bracelet: World Market

Ah, the weekend seems so far away now. I was so young, so innocent, so trendily dressed. I got out of my requisite homebound knockarounds to go have lunch with a bunch of old college friends as a late celebration of Zoe’s birthday, she who was sick nearly a month ago on her actual birthday. It was much fun! We had Szechuan food (including “green bean cake,” which turned out to be gelatinous lozenges, presumably made from green beans, in a messy but delicious chili sauce) and talked about jellyfish and New Zealand, and in general had a jolly old time.

One of us may also have gotten hot tea spilled down her pantleg by a certain person’s boyfriend, but one of us is, luckily, a very forgiving sort. (It didn’t stain or scald, anyway.)

As a bonus–partially because I’m impatient and don’t want to take the time to make it a separate post–here is a tutorial on how to skinnify jeans! Lucky you!

Well, I say “tutorial,” but my method is pretty hamfisted. Play along if you don’t mind some trial and error!

Items you will need:

*A pair of jeans you want to skinnify

*Some pins

*A sewing machine (I suppose you could also hand-sew, but personally, my hand-sewing is even wretcheder than my machine sewing, so do what works best for you)

1) Okay, so you get your pants! I am demonstrating with these wrinkly gray jeans because, in all honesty, I only need one pair of skinny jeans and I’ve already skinnified them, so this is like when TV chefs make half a recipe and then pull the second, completed dish out of the oven so you get to see it in all its cooked, delicious glory.

Anyway. Ideally, they should fit pretty well in the waist and hips to begin with; I’m not here to help you entirely alter a pair of pants, just to trim down the calf area so the pants are trendy/can fit into a pair of boots.

2) Put the pants on inside-out. Wacky, I know! Bear with me.

3) Take a bunch of pins, and roughly pin along the sides of your calves where you want to put your new seams. Don’t go super-tight at first–you want to make sure that you can still bend your leg and get circulation and all that good stuff. You can go tighter later on, if you have to.

A close-up of the enpinnening. See how there’s some wiggle room between the pins and your leg? Yeah, you still want to be able to get your leg out of the pants after you pin them. You can probably go a little tighter if the jeans you’re skinnifying have some stretch, but even so–give yourself room to work. Taper the pins up at your knee, too, because you probably don’t have roomy-enough jeans to keep pinning straight up until you hit Crotch Country.

4 and beyond) Take off your pants (oh yeah!) and get thee to the sewing machine! Sew those pin lines up (removing the pins as you go, obviously), make sure that the new seams blend tolerably well with the original seams so you don’t have weird bunching, and try those suckers on! If it’s too loose or you have any odd spots, take ’em off again (oh yeah!) and do any necessary editing. Once you’ve got them like you like, cut off any extra fabric that’s now on the inside of the leg and go about your merry day:

Ta-derr! Perfect for tucking into my awesome boots, and even not-so-bad for running around on weekends. This worked really well for me because I had previously been unable to find a pair of skinny jeans that actually FIT my body type–if they were of an appropriate waist size, I couldn’t get them over my calves or thighs, and if I could actually pull them up all the way, there was mad gapping in the back. So what’s a chick to do but make some herowndamnself?

Nowww, I know that some readers out there who are actual seamsters and seamstresses might snarfle at my loosey-goosey instructions, but what can I say! Even after six or seven years of making costumes for conventions, my sewing abilities and knowledge are pretty horrible, and patterns that require me to think in three-dimensional space reduce me to tears of frustration. (Not good at spatial conception, I.) There are probably loads of other tutorials out there if you care to have a look; some of the other tutorials I’ve seen include using a pair of skinny jeans you already have to help measure, which is a great idea if you already have a pair. Otherwise, just dig in and do your best, and they’ll probably be at least bootworthy once you’re done!

And if you fuck up–hey, you’ve got yourself a new pair of jean shorts.

How To: Perfect Pancakes

See, here’s the thing, folks: I don’t actually like pancakes. For me, waffles are where it’s at. Crispy, light, waffle-y, with built-in butter and syrup reservoirs, that’s the breakfast of my dreams. Pancakes, meanwhile, are lumpy, dense mounds of Aunt Jemima, and after a bite or two it feels like eating a carb-filled duvet. Not ideal.

But these pancakes. These pancakes! These pancakes. They may not be your perfect pancakes, they may not be your brother’s perfect pancakes, they may not be your bossman’s perfect pancakes, but they are my perfect pancakes. They are my platonic pancakes, if you will. Sweet, maple-y, almond-y, buttermilk-y, they need nothing more than a small dab of butter on top and they make a perfect morning meal. Or Sunday night meal, if you’re me. They’re also good cold, if you woke up late and need sustenance for your bike ride so you stuff one in your mouth before heading out the door. Really, the possibilities are nigh infinite.

THESE PANCAKES.

Perfect Pancakes (adapted from recipe provided by Braden’s dad)

1 1/4 c AP flour
1/4 c brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp powdered cultured buttermilk (or howevermuch your container of powdered buttermilk calls for to mix with 1 c water)
1 c water
1/3-1/2 c sour cream (depending on desired wetness of batter)
1 large egg
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 c pure maple syrup
Unsalted butter

Whisk first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Whisk water, sour cream, egg, almond extract, and maple syrup in another large bowl. Add to dry ingredients. Stir until batter is just blended but still lumpy (do not overmix).

Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter on griddle over medium heat. Pour batter by 1/3 cupfuls onto griddle, spacing 2 inches apart. Cook until bubbles break on surface, about 3 minutes. Turn pancakes over. Cook until bottoms are golden, 3 minutes. Transfer to plates. Repeat with remaining batter, adding butter to skillet as needed.

Sing praises of Father! (Or, in this case, sing praises of Mia. I’m only reporting what Braden’s dad instructed. Feel free to sing praises of him if you like.)

Flat Tire even likes them–or would, if I were willing to feed her some.

She may still be a little mad at me that I kept them all to myself. Whatever, Flat Tire. When the day comes that you grow thumbs and can lift a frying pan by yourself, you can cook whatever you want. Promise.