LEMON + PISTACHIO ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

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By the time you’ll be reading this, I’ll most likely be sitting by the pool, sweating in 105°F weather, sipping on a frozen strawberry margarita. Alex and I are celebrating the 4th of July in Scottsdale, Arizona this year (this will be our third time for the holiday) and it’s something that we LOVE doing. The house that we stay at is perfect for relaxing and having fun in the pool, and the neighborhood we stay in (Paradise Valley) is pretty dead since most of the residents leave Arizona for the summer once the temperature begins to rise. We jump in the pool all day and night, BBQ, blast bad music, and occasionally leave the house to get a couple of meals from our favorite spots (Pizzeria Bianco for the best pizza west of the Mississippi and Tee Pee for giant margaritas and amazing tamales). The 4th of July had never been my favorite holiday until we started celebrating it in Scottsdale.

In the past few weeks, I’d been having some trouble in the kitchen with creating a successful recipe for the blog. It all started with wanting to post a recipe for my favorite gelato flavor, hazelnut, and even though the finished product came out okay, I wasn’t completely sold on it. I was attempting to recreate the exact feeling when I had my first bite of hazelnut gelato in Rome years ago and unfortunately my recipe just wasn’t it. From there, I worked on a baked peach doughnut with a crumb topping and that was an utter disaster, followed by a summer berry olive oil cake which I was not a fan of. So, with all of these unsuccessful kitchen moments, I returned to my two favorite sweets to make in the kitchen and combined them together to give you my first ice cream sandwich recipe. I’m happy to report that it is anything but unsuccessful.

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I love ice cream sandwiches because of the endless amount of combinations that you can create. You can essentially bake any type of cookie flavor that you love (plain old chocolate chip, brownie, snickerdoodle, white chocolate macadamia nut, etc.) and sandwich it between any ice cream flavor you can get your hands on (rocky road, cookie dough, mint chip, etc.). Today, I turned to a classic flavor combination that I turn to time and time again (Exhibit A and Exhibit B): citrus and pistachios. In today’s case, we’ll be working with soft and chewy lemon cookies and creamy pistachio ice cream. It’s perfect.

The lemon cookies get their flavor from three additions to the dough: lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon extract. We really want the lemon flavor to stand up against the rich, custard-y ice cream, so these three components are vital to achieving that bright citrus taste. I chose a cookie that was a bit softer and chewier, a texture that after being placed in the freezer (this is of course how you will need to store ice cream sandwiches) will not yield a hard and crunchy cookie when biting into it. Much like my funfetti cookies, this dough has cornstarch added to it to achieve that softer and chewier texture, and it’s also important to not over bake the cookies! The moment you see that the edges are set, quickly take them out of the oven (this should be right before the 10-minute mark).

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As for the ice cream, it will require you to use quite a bit of pistachios (1 1/2 cups plus more if you roll the ice cream sandwiches through chopped pistachios after they’re assembled). I suggest using raw, unsalted shelled pistachios, which you can find at a Trader Joe’s for a good price.. I personally prefer roasting the nuts myself before adding them to the food processor to finely chop them, but if you can’t find them raw at your grocery store, buying them unsalted and roasted would be the next best thing. The only problem with this option is that they are usually still in the shell aka you’ll be cracking a bunch of nuts open which can take a while.

But here’s the thing: if you want to only make the lemon cookies and go out and buy your favorite store bought pistachio ice cream or gelato, that’s totally fine! Or if you just want to make the pistachio ice cream to enjoy on a warm summer night, that’s okay too! Making both components of this recipe is time consuming so I understand if you’d rather just do half of the recipe. But, I will say it’s a very rewarding feeling when you bite into your first ice cream sandwich knowing that you made every component of it from start to finish. And if you do plan on making both the cookies and ice cream, I suggest making the ice cream first since it’s a longer process but can also stay in the freezer for days.

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The cookie recipe yields 10-12 large cookies and the ice cream yields about 1 quart, which will give you 5 or 6 very large ice cream sandwiches. And if you plan on serving this to more than 6 people, you can easily make the cookies smaller or cut the ice cream sandwiches in half (just wait until they are completely frozen). I store my ice cream sandwiches in the freezer by putting them in tupperware, but you can also wrap them in plastic wrap individually.

Happy Fourth of July!

Pistachio Ice Cream

Yields about 1 quart

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted shelled pistachios

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toast the pistachios for about 6-8 minutes, keeping a careful eye on them. Transfer the pistachios to the food processor fitted with the S-blade and finely chop them.

  2. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, granulated sugar and salt over medium heat. Do not let it come to a simmer. Turn off the stove, remove the pan from the heat, and add the chopped pistachios. Stir until they are all fully submerged, cover the pan with a lid, and allow the mixture to steep for one hour at room temperature.

  3. After an hour, pour the pistachio-infused mixture through a strainer over a medium saucepan. Press down on the nuts in order to extract as much flavor from them as you can. Discard the pistachios and begin to rewarm the pistachio-mixture over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream into a large bowl and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Just as the pistachio mixture is beginning to simmer, gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs. Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.

  5. Pour the mixture over the strainer and into the bowl with the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let the ice cream base sit over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  6. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions and allow it to harden in the freezer for about 2 hours before enjoying.

Soft and Chewy Lemon Cookies

Yields 10-12 large cookies

Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar, light or dark works

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

  • 1 tbsp. honey

  • 1 tbsp. lemon extract

  • 2 tbsp. lemon zest

  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 2 tsp. cornstarch

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugars together until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, honey, lemon extract, zest and juice and mix again for a couple more minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  2. Add all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cornstarch and salt) to the bowl and mix until just combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (Tip: you can scoop out the dough before or after chilling).

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a large cookie or ice cream, scoop out the dough and place them on the sheet. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, each cookie will be about 1/4 cup of dough. Do to the size of the cookie, do not bake more than 6 on a given tray.

  4. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. The cookies will be a light golden brown on the edges and just set when they are ready - they may look underbaked, but they won’t be since these are a softer texture of cookie. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

To assemble the cookies;

  1. Make sure the cookies are completely cooled and the ice cream is frozen solid before assembling the sandwiches.

  2. Try to find two cookies that match exactly in shape and size. Using a ice cream scoop, scoop out about a 1/4 cup of ice cream onto one of the cookies, add the other on top, and gently press down until the ice cream spreads to the width of the cookie.

  3. Roll the ice cream sandwiches through chopped pistachios (optional).

  4. Place the ice cream sandwiches onto a large plate and put it in the freezer for about an hour. Then, either store them in Tupperware or wrap each one individually in plastic wrap.

MANGO + ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA

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Earlier this week, Southern California got its first heat wave of the season and it was a doozy. Alex and I live on the top (3rd) floor of our apartment building and so by the late afternoon, its typical for our apartment to reach about 90 degrees (!!!). We do have central A/C, which we’re totally grateful for, but I come from the notion that you should save the A/C for the worst conditions… aka I’m cheap. Because of this, I try to never complain about the heat, but it’s pretty much a given that sleeping on these hot nights will be hell, especially because I’m sharing a bed with Alex. You know how back in the old days (I’m talking like, the 16th century) when people would place bed warmers in their bed? Alex is essentially one of those bed warmers, which is something I cherish in the winter times, because then I don’t even have to wear socks or sweats in bed, but not so much in the summer. I love him, but the dude runs hot.

Because of the heat, the last thing I wanted to do this week was turn the oven on and bake a cake or cookies. Furthermore, I noticed how I hadn’t posted a non-sweets recipe since January (my bar nuts) so I knew it was about time to do another appetizer or snack of some sort. And even though Alex turns our bed into a mini sauna, today’s recipe is dedicated to him because he was the inspiration for it.

Any time Alex and I go to a casual Mexican restaurant, without fail, Alex gets the mango salsa from the self-serving salsa bar. Although I love fresh mango and pretty much eat a bag of Trader Joe’s dried mangoes every day, mango salsa has never really been my thing. In my opinion, it's usually too sweet and has none of the spice or other flavors that I crave in my favorite salsas. And I’m convinced that most of them have added sugar to achieve that flavor. So, I decided to turn a mango salsa into something that both Alex and I would enjoy, which was achieved by adding a little heat with serrano peppers and a good amount of roasted tomatillos.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the Mexican fruit, let me tell you a little bit about tomatillos. Although they are part of the nightshade family and look like unripened green tomatoes, tomatillos are actually not tomatoes! They’re smaller, come in a papery husk which is easily removable and have a sticky residue on the exterior. Their bright green color is what gives Mexican salsa verde its signature look and as for taste, it is more acidic than normal tomatoes. Because of this added acidity, I felt like sweet, ripe mangoes would be a perfect match when balanced correctly. After a few trials, I believe that I found the perfect blend of sweetness, spiciness and acid.

In order to get that right balance, it is very important that you only use ripe mangoes. Otherwise, if you add a mango that isn’t ready, the sweetness won’t be there and you won’t even be able to tell that there’s mangoes in the salsa. Tomatillos can be a pretty overpowering flavor, so in order to combat this, ripe mangoes are vital. Don’t even bother making this salsa if your mangoes are unripe!

Although I pledged to not turn the oven on this week, I made the exception to turn the broiler on to roast not only the tomatillos, but the peppers and garlic cloves as well. Roasting these three ingredients allowed the flavors to be more accentuated and added more depth to the salsa. You want to achieve a light char on them, so don’t worry if you think you’ve “burned” the tomatillos or anything. Char equals flavor. Oh! And speaking of the serrano peppers, if you’re afraid of spicy food, I would suggest removing the seeds after you’ve roasted them, and using anywhere from one to two peppers (or less if you’re still hesitant). My ideal salsa is one whole pepper with some of the seeds squeezed out after roasting.

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And just so everyone is aware, Alex told me that this salsa is “the best salsa he’s ever had” and I literally had to take the bowl away from him because he would have eaten all of it. That’s a big deal! And I know he’s not lying because we’ve been together for 5 and 1/2 years and so we’re well past the phase of not being brutally honest with one another (he loves telling me when my hair is too fluffy).

If mango isn’t your thing, check out my other salsa recipe here, which includes a recipe for homemade tortilla chips.

Mango and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yields about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 6 small to medium-sized tomatillos

  • 1 -2 serrano peppers, depending on preferred spice level

  • 3 unpeeled garlic cloves

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed

  • 1/2 cup red onion (about 1/2 an onion), chopped

  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 2 ripe mangoes, chopped

Directions

  1. Move the oven rack to the top position and preheat the broiler.

  2. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and quickly rinse them with water to get rid of the sticky residue. Place the tomatillos, pepper(s) and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and broil them for about 10-12 minutes, turning halfway. You want everything to be slightly charred, so if the garlic or pepper roasts faster, remove them first. Once roasted, peel the garlic cloves and remove the stem from the pepper. If concerned about heat, cut the pepper in half and squeeze out some of the seeds.

  3. In a food processor fitted with the S-blade or in a high-powered blender, add all ingredients except for the mango, and pulse until everything is pureed. A few chunks are okay. Add the mango and pulse 5-7 times. Add more salt if needed. Transfer to your desired bowl and eat immediately with chips.

CLASSIC CHEESECAKE W/ SOUR CREAM TOPPING

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Last year, I featured a cocktail recipe that was inspired by my trip to Berlin, Germany back in 2016. I won’t go into detail again about the trip (you can quickly read about it here if you’d like), but I spoke about how I had received an issue for Bon Appétit the month before leaving for Berlin, and luckily enough, that particular issue had an article dedicated to Berlin’s coolest neighborhoods and the best places to eat, drink and hang out. Besides taking the amazing advice to hit up an all-day cafe called ORA in Kreuzberg, I made a mental note to partake in the German ritual called “kaffee and kuchen”, translating to coffee and cake, that Bon Appétit mentioned. It essentially means having a meal between meals and simply is an excuse to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and snack in the afternoon. Bon Appétit said that the best place to partake in this was a spot called Five Elephant, and that you had to get a slice of their cheesecake. So, before Alex and I were heading to a late lunch (at Burgermeister - another spot I strongly suggest visiting) we decided to make the journey to Five Elephant for afternoon Americanos and a slice of cheesecake.

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

And let me tell you: it was without a doubt one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was a beautiful day with perfect weather and we took our coffees and slice of cheesecake and sat at a table outside surrounded by locals. The cheesecake lived up to its reputation and we tried our hardest not to eat the entire thing before heading to our next meal. I’m pretty sure we failed.

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When I came home from the trip, I filled my mom in on everything that we did, including the best cheesecake I had ever had. When I showed her the picture of our cheesecake and coffee (the picture above), she noticed that the cheesecake had a layer of sour cream on top, which she told me was exactly the same way her mother (who was Czech) made it. My Babi (grandmother in Czech) sadly passed away when I was 10, so I don’t always remember the amazing desserts that she made, so her cheesecake had completely slipped my mind. Actually, what I regret most is that my little lazy kid self wasn’t more interested in helping my Babi out in the kitchen - I would have loved to have learned to bake all her Czech desserts. But luckily, I have my aunts and mom to call on when I need a “Babi” recipe, since they saved all of her recipe books and clippings from newspapers and magazines, and it was my aunts who helped me with getting Babi’s cheesecake recipe.

Earlier this week, when I took the first bite of my interpretation of Babi’s cheesecake, I was immediately transported back to Kreuzberg. Babi’s recipe tastes exactly like what I had at Five Elephant, and now every time I’ll bake it in the future, not only will it remind me of my time in Berlin and the wonderful trip I had there, but it also will be a tribute to Babi and will allow me to bring her back to life (in my kitchen at least). When I gave a piece of the cheesecake to my mom, she was ecstatic and quite emotional that she was able to taste that flavor again since she hasn’t had it since Babi passed away. I truly cannot wait to pass these recipes and my own onto my kids and grandkids and I just hope that they develop a passion for baking as I did.

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The cheesecake filling itself is extremely simple with only 4 ingredients - cream cheese, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. I usually recommend doing a water bath but since this is a smaller cheesecake, it only bakes for about 30 minutes, half the time compared to my other recipes. So therefore, I feel like going to the trouble of preparing the water bath isn’t worth the extra time or effort. I also made this cheesecake twice, once with a water bath and once without, and funny enough, I preferred the texture of the cheesecake without the water bath. AND although a water bath also aides in preventing cracks from occurring, there’s no need to worry about that due to the sour cream topping. The topping, consisting of sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract, is poured over the baked and slightly cooled cheesecake, and then popped back into the oven for another 8-10 minutes. So any cracks or imperfections are hidden underneath the topping. And if for some reason your sour cream topping isn’t as smooth as you’d like, cover the top with fruit and you’re good to go.

If you’re not completely sold on the sour cream topping, trust me, it makes the cheesecake SO much better by adding more creaminess and tanginess. If you want, you can use less of the sour cream ( instead of a whole pint, you can use half) and just make a thinner layer.

P.S. interested in another Czech dessert? Here’s a recipe for palacinky aka Czech crêpes.

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Classic Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping

Makes (1) 9in. or 10 in. cheesecake

Recipe adapted from my Babi and aunt!

Ingredients

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For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 3 tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 (8 oz.) packages of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

For the sour cream topping

  • 1 pint (16 oz.) sour cream

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Make the crust:

  1. Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and melted butter and transfer to a 9 or 10 in. springform pan. Using the back of a measuring cup, firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Try to get the crust as evenly spread as possible. If the sides aren’t perfect, no worries.

  3. Bake in the oven for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while preparing the filling. Keep the oven on at 350°F.

Make the filling:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes, and then add in the sugar and cream together for a few more minutes until no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  2. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, making sure each one is incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and mix until just combined. Turn off the mixer and finish mixing the filling using a spatula, making sure to get anything that may be down at the bottom of the bowl (this area usually gets left untouched when using a mixer). Pour the cheesecake filling into the pan and spread it evenly.

  3. Bake the cheesecake for 20-25 minutes. The center of the cheesecake will still have a wiggle to it, but the outer edges will be set. Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow it to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven temperature up to 450°F.

Make the sour cream topping:

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract together. Slowly pour the mixture over the top of the slightly cooled cheesecake and spread evenly using an offset spatula.

  2. Place the cheesecake bake in the oven and bake for 8-10 more minutes.

  3. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before transferring it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate the cake overnight/at least 8 hours before slicing into it.