Habanero Honey Pepper Jam, You Can Take the Heat

Some like it hot. From time to time, I linger on the side of scorching. It makes me feel alive. I prefer an extra glug of hot sauce in a cold michelada. And a jar of chili flakes could probably be fashioned at my hip in a red pepper holster when I’m in the kitchen.

This is not to say spicy mistakes haven’t been made. I’ve even been a hot mess on occasion. But life lessons have been learned along the way. (And relearned.)

Lesson one: If someone—particularly an ex-boyfriend—dares you to do a shot of habanero hot sauce after drinking a cluster of margaritas, do not oblige. And do not oblige twice.

Lesson two: If a waitress warns you that the “Armageddon wings” you’ve ordered are so hot that she can’t be in the kitchen while they are being prepared, don’t be a blockhead and eat them. Especially if they come with a menu disclaimer.

It does not matter that you are in a tiny mountain town in the Adirondacks: they’ll be the hottest thing you have ever put in your mouth. In fact, being in a remote location (where cell phones don’t even work) also means there are no hospitals in proximity should you need one, you idiot. And you might.

Best case scenario: the wings will haunt you for days, sometimes multiple times per day, if you get my drift. And for god’s sake woman, don’t order them again to make sure they are as hot as you remember.

In contrast, this spicy sweet pepper jam will not cause a four-alarm fire. While it has some sneaky underlying heat, the sweetness from the honey and orange peppers help to tame its intensity. I’m well aware of the reputation I’ve just cast, but believe me when I say this jam is not as hot as it sounds. It’s also brightened with the addition of vinegar. I imagine a little squeeze of lemon wouldn’t hurt a bit, either.

You’ve probably noticed there is also a big, bright blossom perched on top of the glaze of orange jam. I recently bought a nasturtium plant at the farmers’ market solely for its fiery orange flowers. (Sometimes I’m shallow.) I had grand plans to add a few blossoms into the jam, but they were immediately swallowed whole, in one syrupy stir, never to be seen again.

Instead the blossoms work much better on top, with the sweet jam and salty feta cheese underneath. This lets nasturtiums shine as nature intended, as they are mildly peppery themselves. Arugula would probably work equally as well in this supporting roll.

The jam would also be complimented by a number of soft cheeses. I haven’t tried cream cheese, but that seems to be the classic pairing consensus from the online pepper jam chatter. A number of people have also recommended that spicy pepper jam serves as a nice stand-in for the traditional fruit spread in peanut butter and jelly sandwich or as a topping for shrimp. Let’s just say I’m game.

After all, I have a whole jar to myself. Which I will not consume in one sitting. No matter how much you dare me.

Habanero Honey Pepper Jam

4 orange bell peppers, cut into thin strips
3-4 habanero peppers, seeded
3/4 cup vinegar
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups chardonnay (or water)
Salt to taste
3/4 cup green apple pectin (recipe here)

Combine the first 6 ingredients with a pinch or two of salt in a medium sauce pan on medium to medium high heat, stirring occasionally and watching that the mixture doesn't burn. Cook for about 1 hour, or until peppers soften. (If the mixture reduces too quickly add a little more wine or simply a little water, the mixture should never become extremely syrupy.)

Once the peppers are fully cooked and have softened, strain them out, but reserve them as you'll eventually be adding them back in. (Before straining out the peppers, you may also want to taste the jam and add a little more salt, sugar, or vinegar depending on your preference. I wanted a nearly equal balance of acid and sweetness so the proportions above worked for me.) Add the pectin to the liquid and continue to cook the mixture for 15 minutes. After about 15 minutes, add back the peppers and cook until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes more.

You will see the consistency of the jam if you stick it on a plate in the freezer for a few minutes; it should be done when it's no longer extremely runny on the plate.

The jam will keep quite well in a jar in the fridge for weeks.

Makes about 2 cups.

-If you, like me, are a chronic over-reducer you may find that you've cooked your jam so long that it resembles hardened jam caramel once it has cooled. If this happens, heat it in the microwave until it becomes semi-edible again and then put it into a sauce pan with a little water and cook it for a few more minutes until it's not quite as syrupy as last time. If needed, repeat.

-Add 4 habaneros if you like a little more heat and 3 if you like a little less, but don't forget to remove the seeds before adding the peppers to the jam or you probably won't like me very much. Also don't rub your eyes, or any other sensitive areas, after you've handled the habaneros.

-I removed the peppers for a bit because I wasn't sure if they were going to turn to mush. You could always chance it and just leave them in.

-I used the chardonnay instead of water because I needed to use it up.

-You may also be able to use store bought pectin, but I had some leftover from the fall in my freezer.


To Strawberry Ice Cream, With Love

It has happened.

I’ve had plenty to say about lentils and garlic scapes. I’ve been filled to the brim with musings on bran muffins and mushroom flatbread. And now I can’t find a thing to say about strawberry ice cream. I’ve totally blanked. Stymied by ice cream.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, recommends when you are suffering from writer's block—when the words just aren’t flowing (and perhaps after you’ve freaked out and thrown stuff)—to sit down and write a letter to a mother, a son, or a childhood friend. I realize Lamott likely didn’t mean to suggest a note composed to an ice cream flavor, but in a way strawberry ice cream is like a long lost companion. And so I begin ...

My dearest strawberry ice cream,

I blame you, in all of your innocence, for my confusion with how to deal with you. You’re a frozen slurry of hope, simplicity, and sadness. Like a well worn one-eyed teddy bear, in dessert form.

You’re a cannon ball into the beginnings of summer. You remind me of balmy nights chasing fireflies just after dusk. Of putting on the screen doors for the season. Thinking of you opens up the shutters and lets the fresh air in. As I write this, I find myself humming “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts. You’re blowing through the jasmine in my mind.

But also, you don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not. What you see is what you get: a light pink hue with bright strawberry bits that have sat stewing in their own juices before being mixed into cream sweetened with sugar. Some may view you as boring. But you’re more classic than clichéd.

I feel bad for you too. You’re often a cast away, the left behind flavor in Neapolitan ice cream and overlooked by most anyone past the age of eleven. Saying this now makes me realize you’re probably in need of a good therapist. You’d likely benefit from spending some time discussing your inner demons lying down on an oversized sofa. I know you have some. You’re nestled in many childhood memories, where adult-sized problems often begin. Like it or not, you probably come with some baggage.

But it’s okay. You represent flip flops and the dreams of summers past. You’re adored by tattered sentimentalists and are eaten by adults with youthful hearts. So I will think of you fondly, for always.

With sugar cones and spoons,


Strawberry Ice Cream

1.25 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped out
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup honey
~1/4 cup sugar (plus additional depending on the sweetness of your berries)
~1.5 pound strawberries, cleaned and stems removed
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp rose water
~1/4 cup framboise

In a medium saucepan combine milk and cream; add the vanilla bean seeds and pod and cook on medium heat until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan, being careful not to let the milk burn. Remove vanilla bean pod.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and add in honey and sugar. When the milk and cream mixture has started to bubble, as mentioned above, slowly add the hot liquid to the egg mixture, whisking in a little at a time to make sure the eggs don't start to curdle. Once fully combined, return mixture to the stovetop and heat on medium, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 6-7 minutes).

Remove the mixture from heat, strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, and set aside. Blend 3/4 of your strawberries in a food processor and then strain out the pulp; add strawberry puree to the cream base, along with the pinch of salt. At this point, you may want to taste the mixture again and whisk in additional honey, if needed. Quarter the remaining strawberries and combine with lemon juice and rose water. Place both the quartered strawberries and strawberry ice cream base in the fridge to cool, ideally overnight.

After mixture has cooled, freeze the strawberry ice cream base according to your ice cream maker's instructions, (typically this takes about 30 minutes).* Meanwhile, strain out any juice the quartered strawberries have released. About half way through the freezing process, add the strawberries and about 5 minutes before the ice cream is done, add in the framboise. Place in the freezer to finish the ice cream hardening process, ideally 2 hours or more.

Makes about 1.5 quarts

-*Though I froze this mixture all at once, I'd recommend freezing it in 2 batches if you can. It will freeze better with less mixture.

-The framboise helps to deepen the berry flavor, while also helping the ice cream remain softer in your freezer.


Nutmeg Spice Cake To Have and To Hold

It’s official, summer wedding season is on. I hosted an engagement party for two dear friends last week and I’m still recovering from my sister’s bachelorette Florida getaway the past weekend. Already, certain themes for this series of matrimony have emerged. Lifelong happiness? The need to shun sweets to squeeze into a dress?

No, for me the theme is ice cream. And cake. Paired with booze. This is entirely my issue. And I have to live with that.

In my defense, I hadn’t planned on my sister’s bachelorette dinner in Daytona being so dismal that it forced forgoing the final course: our party—instead—opting for a taxicab ride to the Winn Dixie for dessert, etc.. I hadn’t planned on washing down a gallon of ice cream with plonk at midnight on a beach vacation. Flash to me with a bottle of cheap Riesling in one hand and a tub of Rocky Road in the other.

On a more successful dessert fête, my friends’ engagement party on my patio featured a buffet of homemade ice cream, paired with a number of fizzy alcoholic beverages for an adult ice cream float fest that would have made Bacchus proud. And there was cake. Specifically, nutmeg spice cake with a rum meringue buttercream.

While cocktails + ice cream is good—and sometimes a necessity—booze with cake is better. This will forever be true for me. And it likely explains why I have such strong feelings about wedding cake. (Read: + open bar.)

I now sit with a leftover slice of cake and can’t help but think how mind-blowing it would be to wash it down with some brandy. The cake itself is like reincarnated eggnog. Each ethereal bite is a cakey reminder of the special occasion cocktail I hold near and dear to my heart.

With this dessert, two souls become one. It’s the perfect marriage of innocence and depravity, a fluffy, moist cake, wrapped in a meringue buttercream and tucked in with a nip of rum. It’s not overly showy, nor is it overly complex to create, but it’s a recipe worth hanging on to all the days of your life.

This cake is patient, this cake is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is nutmeg and rum together, in arguably their finest hour.

So I, Emily, take you, nutmeg cake, to be my pastry partner. And with this fork, I thee eat.

Nutmeg Spice Cake with Rum Meringue Buttercream

Adapted from Joanne Chang's cookbook Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves, freshly ground
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Rum Meringue Buttercream
1.5 cups sugar
6 egg whites
1.5 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4-8 tbsp dark rum (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 inch cake pans (if making a layer cake) or one 9 inch pan. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and oil for about 1 minute. On medium speed, slowly add in sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Add about a third of this mixture to creamed mixture above and mix until just combined; add half buttermilk, mix briefly; scrape down sides of bowl to incorporate all of mixture. On low speed, add half of remaining flour mixture and then the remaining buttermilk. Add remaining flour mixture and mix until just combined. Pour into prepared cake pan(s).

Bake cake in the middle of your preheated oven for 30-40 minutes.

To make the buttercream, in a small heatproof bowl, whisk sugar and egg whites together. Place a small amount of water in a saucepan big enough to allow your bowl to fit in it. When the water is simmering, place the bowl with the sugar and egg whites over the water; ideally, the bowl should not be touching the simmering water. Whisk the mixture for 6-8 minutes or until the mixture is hot to the touch.

Pour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on medium-high speed for 6-8 minutes, until it becomes a light, white meringue. Turn the speed down to low and add the butter at 2 inch chunks and mix for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture looks curdled it will eventually smooth out, you may need to beat it for a few more minutes.

Add vanilla, salt and 4 tbsp of the rum and whip for an additional 1-2 minutes. Taste and add additional rum until desired, whipping briefly to incorporate.

Frost cake. Dust with additional freshly grated nutmeg. Eat cake.

Serves 8-12 (this depends on the size of your slices and the amount of spirits you've consumed)

-The buttercream can be refrigerated for a few days if you aren't using it immediately; out of the refrigerator, beat for about 10 minutes before frosting. (Frosting may separate, but it will come together again.)

-If you happen to have leftovers of this cake, it will freeze brilliantly (even frosted), allowing you to eat it at midnight should that tickle your fancy.

-This is the stuff dessert dreams are made of. Nutmeg is also said to be an aphrodisiac. I'm just sayin' ...

-Ironically, the pastry chef that came up with this dessert at Flour was making it for a friend's wedding.


Salted Butter Caramel Ice Crème de la Crème

If I could borrow from Sinatra: nothing but the best is good enough. I'm not talking Lincolns or lobsters from Maine. A bullfight in sunny old Spain would be nice, but I'm not sure it would beat out salted butter caramel ice cream. This is sweet caramel on caramel action. The crème de la ice crème.

If you've ever loved ice cream. If you've ever felt you've needed it at all. If you've ever had a broken heart. Found a goldfish belly up. Been in a hot pant for an ice cream float.

If you've ever possessed, at one time or another, strong views on deep, dark caramel. If you like the crunchy candy bits in butter crunch ice cream. Then this is the ice cream to keep in reserves.

And it's taken directly from David Lebovitz's playbook. An American pastry transplant living in Paris, Lebovitz knows his way around the sugar bowl. And for those familiar with the legendary Berthillion ice cream in the city of lights, Lebovitz asserts that his version is better than their famed glace caramel.

A dangerous statement. (With this he may as well be a matador; ice cream lovers, like bulls, can get pretty roused.) Luckily, boy does he deliver as promised.

For those that think butter has been overplayed. For those that think salted desserts are o-v-e-r. Think again. They aren't. They're timeless. Like Sinatra. And salt.

So tally-ho. Off we go. You and me, on an ice cream spree. Let's get started. Right away.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz

Crunchy caramel bits
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp sea salt (fleur de sel)

Ice cream
2 cups whole milk, divided
1.5 cups sugar
4 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp sea salt (fleur de sel)
1 cup heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract

Brush a sheet pan generously with butter. Spread 1/2 cup sugar on the bottom of a medium-sized saute pan. Heat on moderate heat until the edges of the sugar begin to melt; slowly spread melting sugar into the middle of the pan, towards the center, until sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook until the sugar deepens in color, until it starts to smoke and nearly starts to burn. Add in salt and quickly pour onto the baking sheet; shift and swirl sheet to spread out caramel. Let cool. Cover.

Meanwhile, make an ice bath with ice cubes and water in a medium bowl and place a smaller bowl on top of the bath. Pour 1 cup of whole milk into the small bowl and rest a mesh strainer on top. Place 1.5 cups sugar in a sauce pan and cook similarly as above, until caramelized. Meanwhile, place egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Once sugar is caramelized, remove from heat and add butter and salt. When butter is melted, add in the cream. The caramel may seize, but continue to stir until any hard caramel that has formed has melted again. Stir in the remaining cup of milk.

Gradually pour small amounts of the hot caramel mixture into the egg yolks to gently heat. Once eggs have tempered, add egg mixture into caramel and cook until it thickens and registers 160-170.

Pour custard through mesh strainer and stir in with remaining milk. Refrigerate until cook, ideally overnight.

Freeze in an ice cream maker, according to instructions. It will generally take 20-30 minutes. While ice cream is freezing, break up the caramel on the baking sheet into small bits. At the very end of the churning add in the caramel pieces.

-The high amount of sugar in this recipe means that it will stay slightly softened (and lovely) in your freezer so you don't have to let it thaw ahead of time.

-If you've ever had an adult ice cream float (or have wanted to have one), this ice cream is perfect with Guinness. I promise.