Tiny Gourmet

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Food, RecipesKristenComment

This recipe comes with a teeny lecture -- don't worry, it will be over quick! But let's talk about ingredients and how important they are any time you cook or bake something. It stands to reason that if you use higher quality ingredients to start with, you'll end up with something that tastes better in the end, right? Right. This is my plea to all people who want their homemade food to taste better: invest in better ingredients! It will make a difference. Now, I'm not saying that you have to buy everything from a gourmet shop that charges $35/pound for artisanal cheese, but there are definitely small swaps you can make that will make an impact.

That brings me to today's recipe, Lavender Shortbread Cookies. If you're familiar with shortbread, there is probably one thing that immediately comes to mind: butter! And rightfully so -- there is a LOT of butter in shortbread. So for this cookie, I'm going to recommend that you spend a few dollars more and pick up a good quality butter since it will really have the chance to shine. I love Kerrygold butter because it's richer and more flavorful than your generic store brand butter, but there are a ton of options out there!

I personally love the flavor of lavender, but I know that not everyone does -- feel free to omit the lavender here if it doesn't do anything for you. You could also play around with other flavors like orange zest or a warm spice, or you can just keep it simple and classic.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Makes 14 2-inch cookies

Ingredients
---------------
2 c. all-purpose flour, plus extra
1 Tbsp. dried lavender
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks, or one package of Kerrygold)
1/2 c. granulated sugar

Instructions
---------------
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the flour, lavender, and salt in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients together for about one minute to break up the lavender buds. Sift the mixture and discard any large pieces.

Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for at least 4 minutes until the mixture becomes fluffy and lightens in color. Turn down the speed to low and gradually incorporate the sifted flour mixture. Mix until the dough just comes together. If you are using a butter with higher fat content (as many high-quality butters have), you may need to add an additional Tablespoon or two so that the dough isn't too sticky. I added an additional 2 Tablespoons to the dough I made with Kerrygold.

If the dough is very soft, place the bowl in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle a clean work surface with a small amount of flour and place your chilled dough on top. Roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thickness and cut out cookies with a shaped cookie cutter. Continue to re-roll and cut cookies until all dough is used, chilling the dough again in between if needed. Alternatively, you could roll out the dough and cut it into squares or rectangles.

Transfer the cookies to ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1/2-inch of space between them. Prick the cookies a few times with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Grapefruit Tartlets with Meringue

Food, RecipesKristenComment

Sunday is my baking day. I try to keep my day open so that I can have time to play in the kitchen, and soon 5 or 6 hours of experimenting goes by in a flash. I know we're all tired of talking about the brutal winter weather we've had on the East Coast this year, but last Sunday I was so sick of it that I felt the need to create my own sunshine... in the form of this grapefruit tartlet! Ironically, as soon as I started squeezing grapefruits it started to snow and didn't let up the entire afternoon.

I love my little tartlet pans for making individual desserts. You could easily modify the filling in these to suit your taste, but bright punchy grapefruit was calling to me! I like to cut my grapefruit and lemon curds with a little bit of orange juice -- it tempers the tartness, allowing for less sugar in the mix. You won't be able to tell the orange is there, but if you prefer a seriously puckery curd, you can leave it out.

Perhaps the best part of these tartlets is the cloud of toasted meringue, which should be piled generously on top of your curd. I finished my tartlets with a quick zest of lime for an additional zing and a little bit of color. Here's to making your own sunshine!

Grapefruit Tartlets with Meringue
Makes six 4-inch tartlets or one 9-inch tart

Ingredients
---------------
Shells:
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
10 Tbsp. frozen butter
1 egg yolk
1-2 Tbsp. ice water

Grapefruit curd:
3/4 c. fresh grapefruit juice (from about 2 medium grapefruits)
2 tsp. grapefruit zest
1/4 c. fresh orange juice (from about 1 medium orange)
1/2 c. water
2/3 c. + 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1/3 c. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Meringue:
4 egg whites
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional:
lime zest, for garnish

Instructions
---------------

Shells:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, quickly cut the butter into the dry mixture. After you get the big pieces incorporated, you can use your fingers to  crumble it into a sand-like consistency. Be careful not to handle the mixture too much, as you want the butter to stay cold. Mix in the egg yolk with a large spoon until uniform, and then add the ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a well-floured surface. Lightly butter your tartlet pans/tart pan. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut out rounds that are about 1 inch wider than the pan(s), using either a biscuit cutter or a paring knife. Carefully transfer each round into the pan and gently push the dough into the contours of the pan. Trim any excess dough around the top, prick the dough at the bottom of the pan several times with a fork, and transfer to the freezer for 10 minutes before baking. Re-roll the scraps to finish filling your tart pans, allowing the dough to rest in the refrigerator for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.

Line each tartlet pan on top of the dough with a small square of parchment paper, or with a square of foil greased with butter on the side that touches the dough. Using pie weights or dried beans, fill each shell to prevent the dough from rising too much during baking. Bake the shells for 10-12 minutes until set. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove the liner and weights from each pan and return them to the oven for an additional 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Allow them to cool completely on a rack.

Grapefruit curd:
Combine grapefruit juice, zest, orange juice, water, and 2/3 c. of sugar in a large saucepan and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and 2 Tbsp. of sugar. Whisk until the egg yolks are broken up and are beginning to get slightly fluffy. Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is perfectly smooth and pale yellow in color.

Bring the juice and sugar mixture to a boil over medium-high heat on the stove top, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Temper the eggs into the mixture by pouring about 1/4 c. of the boiling juice into the yolks while whisking VIGOROUSLY. If you do not keep the mixture moving, you will risk cooking the egg yolks! Add about another 1/2 c.  of the juice into the yolks, and then return everything into the saucepan and continue whisking everything together over medium heat. After 2 minutes or so, the mixture will start to bubble and thicken. When large, thick bubbles break the surface of the curd, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter until smooth.

Divide the warm curd between the cooled tart shells, smoothing out the tops. Allow the curd to cool and set.

Meringue:
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl, start whipping up the egg whites with an electric mixer. Beat the eggs until they are frothy and begin to hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar slowly, starting with a few tablespoons at a time and beating thoroughly in between additions. The whites will gain more volume and eventually will hold a stiff peak. At this point, beat in the vanilla extract and turn off the mixer.

Top each cooled tart with a generous dollop of the meringue -- you can either smooth out the mound or leave it spiky! Place the tarts back into the 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes to brown the meringue, or use a kitchen torch to toast it. Garnish with lime zest if desired. Serve immediately.

Notes:
If you want to make these ahead, I recommend baking and filling the tartlets with the curd and then storing them in the fridge in air-tight containers. The meringue whips up quickly and is best served just after it's toasted!
 

Hazelnut Orange Whoopie Pies with Espresso Filling

Food, RecipesKristenComment

Whoopie pies are one of the first recipes I ever attempted on my own as a teenager. I remember clipping a recipe out of the American Profile magazine that came stuffed into our local newspaper. Whoopie pies were not something that my mom ever made (or bought at the store, for that matter), and I remember carefully reading, measuring, and scooping my way through the recipe. I almost didn't believe that I would actually end up with real whoopie pies at the end. Miraculously, the spongy chocolate cakes with sugary 100% shortening filling were not only edible, but also pretty good!

I love a good treat with my coffee, especially during the chilly winter months. I think that a lot of people consider whoopie pies to be a summery treat, but this slightly more sophisticated flavor combination takes advantage of bright winter citrus and the deep flavors of hazelnut and espresso. The ground hazelnuts mixed into the whoopie batter give the whoopies additional texture, almost like a financier. I like the addition of espresso in the filling, but you could also stick with a plain vanilla cream filling. In this recipe, I used equal parts butter and shortening to create a fluffy but not overly greasy filling. In a pinch, you could use one or the other. 

Hazelnut Orange Whoopie Pies with Espresso Filling
Yield: 14 whoopie pies

Ingredients
---------------
Whoopies:
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. hazelnut meal (aka ground hazelnuts -- if you can't find it in the store, see instructions to make below**)
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. orange zest
1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg (room temperature)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. buttermilk (plus 1/2 c. water)

Filling:
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
1 c. milk
6 Tbsp. shortening (room temperature)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1//2 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Extra powdered sugar and espresso powder to garnish {optional}

Instructions
---------------

Whoopies:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two half sheet pans with parchment and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, hazelnut meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and orange zest. In a measuring glass, combine the buttermilk and 1/2 c. water.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars, mixing until it becomes light and airy (at least 5 minutes). Add the egg and mix until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix 20 seconds more.

Working in three additions, start adding the dry ingredients into the wet with your mixer on low. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients and adding the buttermilk mixture. Mix until everything is uniform and lump-free. The batter should be very thick. At this point, you could chill the batter in the refrigerator if you want to bake them later.

Scoop mounds (about 2 Tbsp.) of batter on to your prepared baking sheet, leaving a good 2 inches between them. Don't worry about making them smooth on top -- the batter will naturally smooth and speed in the oven. Bake each sheet of whoopies for 10-12 minutes until set around the edges and slightly springy. Set aside on a wire rack until cooled completely and then carefully peel the whoopie pies off of the parchment. Continue until all batter is used up.

Filling:
Combine the flour, salt, and espresso powder in a small saucepan. Add the milk to the dry ingredients while whisking to remove any lumps. Keep whisking until the mixture is very smooth, and then bring it up to a simmer over medium-low heat on the stovetop. Whisk constantly until the mixture becomes very thick, about 5 minutes. If the mixture becomes lumpy, don't worry! You can always strain it through a sieve immediately after you pull it off of the heat. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the shortening, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat them together until very light and fluffy. Add the cooled espresso mixture and continue to beat for 7 minutes or more until the mixture is stiff and very fluffy.

Assembly:
Transfer the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe a generous amount of filling between two whoopies (at least 3 Tbsp.) and sandwich together. Alternatively, you can spoon the filling into the whoopies. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar and espresso powder before serving. Filled whoopie pies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

**
To make hazelnut meal: Start with 1/4 cup of blanched hazelnuts (aka no skins). In a food processor or spice grinder, pulse the hazelnuts until they form a fine, sand-like crumb -- this should yield about `/2 c. of hazelnut meal!

 

A Guide to the Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse {Week 2}

FoodKristen2 Comments

"I cheated and I'm not that sorry about it." This is not really a text message you want to receive from your significant other, but it's the text I got from Frank earlier this week. Thankfully, he was referring to a slip in loyalty to the Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse, and not a bigger issue.

Victory!

Victory!

Thursday rounded out our second and final week of the cleanse (Week 1 recap here) -- a moment of both relief and (strangely) anxiety for me. I'm glad to be relieved of kitchen duty for the first time in two weeks, but I'm already stressing about next week's menu since it isn't laid out for me. Last night we celebrated the end of the cleanse with dinner at Estela -- highly recommended way to undo all of your hard work!

Other than my aforementioned baklava snack and Frank's fall to a sandwich on a day he wasn't able to bring lunch to work ("BREAD!" he texted), we stuck to the plan pretty closely. Here's my final assessment.

Week 2 Summary

Week 2 felt a little more streamlined than Week 1, but cooking fatigue definitely set in about halfway through the week. We still enjoyed the majority of the recipes and both continued to feel really good.

Cost: A much smaller shopping list meant a (slightly) less expensive grocery bill. We rung in at $200 this week, bringing the total for the entire 2-week cleanse to just about $500. That's more than we usually spend in a month for groceries, but we also didn't eat out at restaurants for two weeks, which is unheard of for us. A lot of the pantry ingredients we bought during Week 1 are now new, fun ingredients for us to use going forward.

Time Commitment: this week's shopping list was much more manageable than last week. I only made two major grocery store runs, and having everything on hand made it easier to prep things ahead. Cooking time was about the same -- an hour and a half to two hours per night.

Level of Ease: There was nothing particularly challenging in this week's recipe packet! Very straightforward.

Quality of Recipes: Like last week, we enjoyed the majority of the recipes. I did notice that some of the instructions got a little sloppy this week (i.e. no indication to save something from dinner for lunch the next day, which they were very good about in the first week), but nothing that totally ruined the results.

Results: I'm really happy that we decided to take on this cleanse. We're thinking very differently about portion sizes and our ability to re-purpose elements of dinner to create a new lunch item the next day. We were introduced to some fun flavors that we'll use going forward as well! I also really enjoyed being able to follow along with the creators of the cleanse on the Bon Appetit site. As far as weight goes, I have to say that I'm surprised by how much we lost! Changing our eating habits (and more importantly, not starving ourselves) for just two weeks resulted in losing 9 pounds, which is enough to make me really think about how much food really impacts us. I'd encourage anyone curious about the Food Lover's Cleanse to give it a try! If nothing else, you'll walk away with a few new go-to recipes that you can feel good about.

Favorite Week 2 Recipes:

Least Favorite Week 2 Recipe:

  • Beet and Escarole Salad with Avocado and Walnuts -- I was surprised that I didn't love this salad because I really liked all of the elements of it. But alas, the result was a little lackluster in flavor, and the lack of a side dish on this particular night was also sort of a bummer.
  • Roasted Celery Root with Walnuts and Thyme -- I thought this one was fine, but Frank was not a fan. Again with the root-vegetables-taste-like-dirt thing. It's a personal preference, for sure.

A Guide to the Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse {Week 1}

Food, RecipesKristenComment

To quote John Oliver, "No one wants to hear about your f*#%ing cleanse." He's probably right, so if you want to go ahead and roll your eyes and move along, I don't really blame you. But after a few years of being curious about Bon Appetit's annual Food Lover's Cleanse, I finally decided that this would be the year that I would try it.

For those unacquainted, The Food Lover's Cleanse is a recipe program developed by the Bon Appetit staff and a registered dietitian. It's totally free and available online -- you just buy the ingredients and cook the dishes. The menu offers two weeks of healthy eats for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

I thought it might be helpful for anyone considering doing the BA cleanse to break down the program and give a realistic look at the cost, time commitment, level of ease, quality of recipes, and overall results.

Before I give you a recap of week one, here's a little insight into what I'm looking to get out of the cleanse:

  1. Get back on track with eating right. I don't feel as though I went too overboard this holiday season, but it's always good to push the reset button and focus on fueling yourself with good food. I always find myself reaching for less-than-nutritious options during the cold, bleak months of January and February, so I'd love to use this as a launching pad to get the right nutrients this winter! Weight loss is not a huge focus, but I'll note any differences I find during the cleanse (this is NOT billed as a diet/weight loss program, just FYI).
  2. Try new recipes and find new favorites. We always get stuck in a cycle of making the same recipes over and over again. It's really appealing to me that we will be trying new recipes almost every day, and I'm really hoping that some of them will stick!
  3. Start the new year with a sense of accomplishment. Sticking to a new regimen is always tough, especially when it comes to food. It's easier to order takeout or to cave to making dinner plans with a friend, so I'm really looking forward to challenging myself to stay accountable! Sorry friends, call me in a few weeks for dinner!
So many greens...

So many greens...

On to the guide:

Week 1 Summary

Last night marked the end of week 1 of the cleanse, and so far I'm pretty impressed! I have to admit that for the first few days my stomach was grumbling a little in between meals, but I made an effort to chug water and enjoy a cup of tea to combat that (dehydration often manifests as hunger pangs for me, so I tried to be mindful of that). I only "cheated" once this week when a co-worker brought in her  mom's homemade baklava that she makes once a year and I wait for all year long. Some things are more important than cleansing. The biggest challenge of this week was buying all of the ingredients. As someone who cooks very frequently, I had a lot of pantry items on hand already, but the Week 1 Shopping List was 115 items long -- holy smokes!

The guidelines that Bon Appetit provides say that you should keep alcoholic beverage consumption low -- no more than 4 drinks per week. This wasn't at all a problem for us, as we're not big drinkers to begin with. I had one beer last weekend, but otherwise stuck to coffee, tea, and water.

Cost: Week 1 rung in at (deep breath!) $300. Ouch, ouch, ouch. That's 3/4 of our normal monthly grocery budget. In one week. I'm interested to see what next week's total will be since all of the non-perishable items were purchased this week, so next week's list is considerably smaller. Also take into account that we live in New York City where grocery prices are somewhat higher, and I bought all of the meat and fish at Whole Foods (Yes, I'm a snob. But the quality is just a lot better than any of the other stores in our neighborhood).

Time Commitment: I won't lie, this takes a lot of time. I shopped at 4 different grocery stores over 3 or 4 days (probably at least 3 hours-worth of shopping). I spend about 2 hours each day making dinner and prepping lunches and breakfast for the next day. I really don't mind that piece of it since being in the kitchen is quite cathartic for me, but I can see how this would not be fun for someone who isn't comfortable in the kitchen. Being organized about your prep work will shave off a lot of time, so wash your greens, mix your salad dressings, and cut up the fruit for your breakfast the night before. You should also take into consideration that a lot of cooking produces a lot of dishes. We gave our dishwasher a workout this week, and spent a good amount of time doing dishes by hand as well.

Level of Ease: I don't find any of the recipes particularly difficult, but there may be elements that are challenging for beginner cooks. For example, one recipe calls for poached eggs which I think take some practice! Of course, you can always sub a fried egg for a poached egg if the latter is too challenging. Which reminds me to mention: the Bon Appetit team is updating the cleanse page with a post each day where they offer advice and substitutions -- super helpful!

Quality of Recipes: I have to say that I'm really impressed so far with the results. The recipes are delicious for the most part! The portion sizes are satisfying and don't feel like you're being deprived. One small annoyance is that the recipes are designed to serve 2 people for breakfast, 4 for dinner, and 1 for lunch (using leftovers from the night before). My ever-patient boyfriend is (begrudgingly) joining me in the cleanse, so I'm shopping for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners per day, meaning that I have had to adjust the quantities a little  bit. Not a big deal, but it could be frustrating for some. The slightly bigger problem is that there are quite a few errors/typos in the recipes, so I would encourage you to read very carefully before you start cooking. I know that the team has been updating the recipes online as people point out errors, but I just printed out the full packet at the beginning of the week.

Results: I think the biggest "result" of this week is that I'm thinking a little more mindfully about what I'm eating. It has also made me think more about portions -- in each of the dinners, about half of the plate is filled with vegetables and one quarter with protein. We eat a lot of veggies already, but proportionally I think we could do better! Frank has found himself craving carbs, since there are almost no simple carbs on the menu... I'm not minding that so much. I'm happy to say that my 3 p.m. cravings for sugar have really dropped off this week, and I've been able to stick to just one small, healthy snack per day. For what it's worth, I'm also down about 4 pounds this week (I also exercise fairly regularly and have continued to do so during this cleanse). We're definitely ready for Week 2, and I'm planning to shop and do a lot of prep work this weekend to make next week a breeze!

Favorite Week 1 Recipes:

Least Favorite Week 1 Recipes:

  • Mahi-Mahi with Fennel, Olive, and Orange -- a pretty uninspired lunch, unfortunately. I found it really bland.
  • Beet Soup with Caraway -- Frank said this "tasted like dirt", but for the record, I found it pretty tasty. I think this one depends entirely on your taste for beets.
  • Oatmeal with Cacao Nibs and Figs -- This one just doesn't suit my taste for some reason, although Frank really likes it. I find the combo of figs and cacao nibs to be just too crunchy, and there is a weird wine-like aftertaste to this (I love wine, but not in my breakfast!).

Check back next week for the final recap of Week 2!