Honey Lavender Ice Cream

I've seen this flavor combination pop up here and there over the last several years, and being a fan of both, it has always sounded like it would be right up my alley. Recently, while watching Merryl Streep make it for Steve Martin in It's Complicated, I nearly got up from the couch in an effort to attempt it right then and there. The impulse passed and I didn't act on it, but the timing this week was perfect as Dan and I decided to cut out refined sugar for a couple of weeks. I've never sweetened ice cream with honey before and let me just say this: wow. There is something about using a liquid sweetener (honey, maple, agave, etc.) rather than granulated sugar that changes the composition, resulting in the most deliciously creamy and smooth ice cream you've ever tasted. Be warned, though - there is a caveat...this ice cream will not freeze as well as homemade ice cream usually does. For those of you who like your ice cream hard (like ME), you must know that this ice cream will be softer than your typical liking. However, I found the flavor and texture to be so delightful that I really didn't mind, and that's saying a lot. I've happily bent many a spoon on hard ice cream in my day. I did end up freezing the ice cream overnight to make it scoopable, instead of the standard two to three hours after churning I usually go for, and it was delicious. If you like a softer style ice cream, you will think you have died and gone to ice cream heaven and want to eat it right away.

                    1/2 cup honey
                    1/4 cup dried lavender
                    4 egg yolks
                    2 cups milk
                    1 cup heavy cream

Bring the milk, cream, honey, and lavender to a gentle boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain and let cool a bit.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm milk mixture, whisking as you pour.  Pour the warmed eggs back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain again into a bowl.

Set the bowl over a large bowl of ice water. Stir the custard until cool, then cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (3 hours or overnight).

Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart.


Ahi Sashimi Bowl with Tofu and Orange Sesame Vinaigrette

Taking inspiration from the fabulous Heidi Swanson's "Sushi Bowl", Dan and I have been making this every Monday night for quite a while now. It's a light, healthy way to start out the week after typically having indulged one way or another (or another!) over the weekend, and I'm always perfectly satisfied without feeling stuffed and weighed down when it's over. This one's a keeper, folks.

The beautiful flowers are Tatsoi blooms. Those of you who frequent this site know that I love to eat flowers and these little babies are no exception. Tatsoi is an Asian mustard harvested for the greens. The flowers remind me of my childhood - they taste similar to the mustard flowers that bloomed all over the hills in the area where I grew up. Before the Tatsoi from our garden went to seed, we were lightly sautéing the leaves and adding them, too. I haven't been able to bring myself to pull the plants out yet - their  delicate and mild-flavored little blossoms are too delicious and continue to spring up.

                    2/3 lb. sashimi grade ahi tuna
                    1 package soft tofu
                    1 cup brown rice
                    1-2 avocados, sliced
                    1/4 cup chopped scallions for garnish
                    2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
                    torn nori pieces (optional)

For the vinaigrette:
                    1/4 cup orange juice
                    2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
                    1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
                    1 tablespoon soy sauce
                    1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Rinse the rice and and add to a medium saucepan with 1-2/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Let cook for 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand an additional 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

Toast the sesame seeds by heating and tossing them in a small pan over medium heat until light brown and fragrant.

For beautifully cut sashimi, cut the ahi into 1"-wide blocks with the grain along the length of the fillet. Then slice the blocks into 1/4" thick slices against the grain. For a great video tutorial on the art of cutting perfect sashimi slices, click here.

Slice the tofu into 1/4" thick slices and pan fry them over medium heat to brown on either side. remove from the heat and cut again into dominoes of desired size.

Place the rice, sashimi, tofu, and avocado slices in a bowl and garnish with scallions, toasted sesame seeds and torn pieces of nori (optional). Generously spoon the vinaigrette over the top.

Makes 2 healthy servings. 


Pan Fried Halloumi with Lemon and Fresh Herbs

For months now, I have been wanting to try this very simple dish from Donna Hay. God only knows why I waited so long. Making this requires only the simple tasks of pan frying sliced halloumi cheese and picking some cilantro and mint from the garden. A little segmented lemon really brings the flavors together. Please don't skip this part!

If you haven't cooked with halloumi before, you can thank me later for bringing this incredibly tasty and versatile ingredient into your life. You'll wonder how you made it this long without it. And speaking of long, halloumi has been around for centuries...literally. Since the Medieval Byzantine period, where it originated in Cyprus, this cheese has been popular in Greece and the Middle East. Made from both goats' and sheep milk, it's somewhere between a fresh mozzarella and a salty firm feta. What makes it extra special is it's high melting point. You can fry it or grill it without it melting and running all over the place. It holds it's shape and browns beautifully AND no oil or butter is needed. It's also wonderful fresh in salads or on sandwiches. I just read that Cypriots eat it with watermelon in the summer. Will have to try this!

                    sliced halloumi cheese
                    small handful fresh mint and cilantro
                    segmented lemon

Pan fry the halloumi slices over medium high heat for about two minutes on each side. Garnish with mint, cilantro, and lemon.

From Donna Hay.


Borrego Blueberry Muffins

I know, I know. More baking? I can't help myself.

Dan and I had strategically scheduled vacation this week, and silly me had visions of us playing on the beach every day with James...building sand castles and soaking up the sun. But after weeks and weeks of gloomy, cloudy, gray skies (Monday it was actually raining on my head on our morning walk), it was time for a getaway. My brilliant husband had the idea of heading east - to the westernmost extent of my beloved Sonoran desert. I jumped online and minutes later we had a condo booked for two nights in beautiful Borrego Springs. Interesting fact about this place: Borrego Springs holds the unique distinction of being the only California community completely surrounded by a state park (Anza-Borrego, the largest desert state park in the nation).

I had never been before, but Dan grew up going to Borrego and knew I would love it. And I did. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We had three lovely days of welcomed heat and gorgeous views of the expansive desert mountains surrounding the area. James loved going in the pool for the first time, and seeing frogs, dragonflies, rabbits, and lizards.

And I made these muffins. These glorious muffins were - dare I say it - THE BEST MUFFINS I HAVE EVER MADE. Yep. I combined the dry ingredients ahead of time and mixed in the melted butter, egg, buttermilk and fresh blueberries right before popping them in the oven on our first morning. Now, naturally, I thought they would be good. Blueberry muffins usually are. But wow. The buttermilk made for an incredibly perfect interior and a slightly tangy flavor that really worked with the blueberries. I added some coarse sugar on top for a beautiful texture contrast and the whole shebang was a huge success. Thank you Nigella Lawson (again). It really is the little things like this that make for warm and fuzzy feelings when you're away from home.

6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper cups. Melt the butter and set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the buttermilk with the egg and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix to combine. Don't worry about lumps. They make for better muffins. Don't overmix!

Fold in blueberries and keep the mixing to a minumum.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes and let cool on a cooling rack.

Makes 12 small muffins.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson, How to Be a Domestic Goddess.