Monday, February 25, 2013

Earl Grey Tea & Lavender Honey Cheesecake


  As much as I love all cheese, I have never been much of a cheesecake fan. It could be that I rarely crave sweet things (I think I have a salt tooth, not a sweet tooth), or that cheesecake is usually so dense and weird, and always gets stuck right at the back of the throat. However, I was recently inspired by a tea room I visited in Savannah.
  As many of you know, I am currently on a grain-free refined sugar-free diet for health reasons, so adjusting recipes has been both a little challenging and fun. For the crust I used an *almond flour and pecan tart crust that I found on the blog Against All Grain. Truly great recipes there that have been invaluable to me in adjusting to this new lifestyle.
  The filling is steeped with Earl Grey tea, sweetened with honey, and lightened up with the addition of creme fraiche. I steeped fresh lavender in a mild honey for a few weeks, but you could certainly buy lavender honey, or skip it altogether and use clover or orange blossom honey instead.

  *A quick word about almond flour: While you can use the kind you find at the grocery store (usually Bob's Red Mill), I highly suggest ordering a blanched almond flour instead. It is ground without the skins, which creates a finer texture that is closer to "regular" flour. It can replace flour in virtually any recipe with a little tweaking and is packed full of protein. It does burn easily so a close eye must be kept on whatever you are baking. I love the Honeyville brand, which I buy in bulk and freeze, keeping just enough to use in the refrigerator.

Earl Grey Tea & Lavender Honey Cheesecake


crust: 3/4 cup pecans
          1 1/2 cups almond flour
          1/4 tsp salt
          1/4 tsp baking soda
          1/4 tsp cinnamon
          1/4 tsp nutmeg
          1/2 tsp vanilla
          3 T cold butter or coconut oil
          2 T honey
          1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grind pecans in food processor until a coarse meal forms.
Add remaining ingredients and pulse until dough forms, or cut in with pastry cutter.
Press dough into a 9" spring form pan.
Poke holes into crust all over with a fork and bake for 12 min.
Place in freezer for 20 minutes.

filling: 1 lb. cultured cream cheese (2 packages)
            16 oz. creme fraiche or good quality sour cream
            1/2 cup heavy cream or full fat coconut milk
            4 eggs
            1/2 a vanilla bean, split in half and scraped
            2/3 cup lavender honey
            2 T strongly brewed Earl Grey tea
            1/2 tsp salt
            2 Earl Grey tea bags

Heat cream to a boil, remove from heat, and steep with 2 tea bags for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and creme fraiche until smooth.
Add remaining ingredients including cooled heavy cream.
Pour into prepared crust (I line the outside of my spring form pan with aluminum foil to help keep the water bath out.).
Place in a baking pan and fill baking pan halfway with hot water.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, rotating halfway.
Bake until just barely set in the center and surface is lovely and lightly browned.
Let cool, then let chill in refrigerator overnight.

tea and honey cheesecake
Are you ready for Spring or what?!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Honey Whiskey Bacon


  As promised, I am sharing with you the results of my latest bacon. This is definitely my favorite batch so far. I always enjoy a sweet bacon, but this one has several layers of complexity with a nice smokey whiskey bite.
  This recipe is very simple and only takes about a week to complete. I smoked mine at the end, but you can always finish it off in the oven instead. If you choose the oven route, after drying in the refrigerator, roast it for 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 200 degrees.
  If you do smoke (your bacon that is) you can use any number of woods. I used Bourbon barrel wood chips for a one-two whiskey punch in the face, but hickory, mesquite, or peach would be really nice too.
  Now, I should mention that this recipe includes curing salt a.k.a. pink salt a.k.a. sodium nitrite salt (which is not the same thing as Himalayan sea salt). You can certainly skip this step as well, but your bacon won't be quite as..well...bacon-y. It will have a brownish hue and more of a pork roast flavor, which certainly isn't a bad thing.
  You can find oodles of information out there that is either for or against nitrites, so I won't bother getting into that. I do favor the articles here and here if you care to investigate.
   And lastly, this will make you a 5 pound batch, which sounds like a lot until you start eating it. You can of course freeze half, or just half the recipe.

Honey Whiskey Bacon


5 lbs. fresh pork belly
5 T kosher salt
1 tsp curing pink salt (optional)
1/2 c strong dark honey like Buckwheat
4 T whiskey, the cheaper the better
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 bay leaves, torn into small pieces
1 tsp juniper berries, crushed
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg, grated

Combine salts, honey, whiskey, garlic, and spices in a small bowl.
Rub thouroughly over belly and put into a large freezer bag (can cut in two if too large).
Pour any remaining curing "sauce" into bag.
Lay flat in refrigerator and flip every other day (liquid will gather in bag, this is a good thing, just keep in contact with belly).
After 7 days, remove belly and wash under cold water.
Place onto a cooling rack that is on top of a baking sheet, place in refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours.
Smoke at 200-210 degrees for 2 1/2 - 3 hours.
If belly still has rind intact, slice off while still warm, save for flavoring in beans, greens, or chili.
Slice as desired and fry.
Repeat...and repeat...and repeat....

good morning

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hard Cider: America's Forgotten Darling

  I admit that hard cider has usually been a bit of an after thought for me. Delicious yes, but usually reserved for dessert or the random break from beer and wine. I myself have always been a craft beer lover, so now that beer is no longer an option for me, I am revisiting my old fizzy friend.
  Turns out that hard cider was once the most popular beverage in America. Long before Americans were brewing IPA's in their basements, cider ruled as King. Thankfully, it is starting to make a comeback. While I could write a novel on cider's merits and history, I will let a beautifully short and brilliantly informative graphic from HackCollege tell it instead. Though its main focus may be discussing college kids, I feel it applies to any and everyone.

Cider Infographic

Created by:

  Pretty nice huh? The wonderful thing about cider's reemergence is a greater focus on artisan. Forget the sticky sweet artificial flavored ciders of days past, now you can find quality ciders using blended heirloom apple varieties and ingredients like maple syrup, winter spices, and ale yeasts. They range from dessert style sweet to bone dry, sparkling to still. And need I mention that they pair marvelously with every manner of cheese? Their fruity notes and more subtle tannins make pairing a breeze, and the playful effervescence found in most help to lift fat from the tongue and cleanse the palette.
  Try a sweet and appley cider like J.K.'s Scrumpy with a salty blue such as Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen, or a stinky washed rind like Meadow Creek's Grayson. Fresh light goat cheeses and bloomy rinds like Sweet Grass Dairy's Green Hill do well paired with something lighter and more crisp like Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie, a very dry Champagne-like French cider. And hard to semi-hard cheeses like Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Sequatchie Cove's Cumberland play nicely with something right in between, think Samuel Smith's Organic Cider.
  In addition to their cheese loving awesomeness, their versatility can be found in kitchen cookery as well. Think marinades, brines for pork and poultry, sauces, or flavor boosts in desserts. And speaking of dessert, serve this cocktail with hot apple pie and just try not to have your mind blown.

Boozey Apple Pie Cocktail


3 oz. sweet hard cider
2 oz. whiskey
several thin slices sweet apple
1 cinnamon stick
1 thin slice ginger

Combine all ingredients.
Serve over ice on a summer day, or in a hot mug with a pat of butter on a blustery day.

  If you are not already a die hard fan, I urge you to find a quality cider and take a swig. Or better yet, brew one yourself! I am! But that is a different post for a different day, recipe to come.