Chile Lime Shrimp with Roasted Poblano Cream

Chile Lime Shrimp with Roasted Poblano Cream // Not Without Salt

Chile Lime Shrimp with Roasted Poblano Cream // Not Without Salt

I want to tell you all about this recipe. I would like to sit down with you and urge you to get some shrimp marinating immediately because the sooner you do the quicker you’ll be to putting one of these tangy, slightly spicy shrimp into your mouth. I would also encourage heavy dipping into the smoky and rich sauce. But I’m running out of time so I’ll just have to trust the images will be enticing enough.

As it is I’m late to pick up my boy from his first day of all day school, lunch is still sitting on the table from three hours ago, dishes are in the sink (that’s nothing new) and the other two kids have been watching a movie for the last hour while I try and tackle my growing to do list. So, as I said, I wish I had more time to urge you to make this recipe. You’ll just have to trust me and get on it.

Chile Lime Shrimp with Roasted Poblano Cream // Not Without Salt

As a contributor for S.Pellegrino’s Practice the Art of Fine Food program I created this recipe and post along with many others that can be found on their Facebook page here.

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Tuscan Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

We sat under the walnut trees. The same trees that gave an abundant harvest two years ago when a then wobbling Ivy joined me in collecting the tender walnuts that had fallen from the branches. My friend, Steve, an incredibly talented wedding designer, had set up a large wooden table heavy with florals and beautiful edible things that ran down the middle of the table. The eight of us – my brothers, their wives, Gabe, myself and my parents sat down to dinner to celebrate the forty years that my parents have been married.

With help, I cooked a family style meal that felt fitting for the occasion. Smoked salmon on puff pastry with fresh peas in creme fraiche started our dinner. It was a subtle homage to salmon pie – a dish my mom made throughout our childhood. When mom made salmon pie we knew we needed to set the table and that we would be having a leisurely dinner in the dining room. It felt special.

Next I paraded large platters of sliced melon topped with a sweet and tart basil vinaigrette to the table. Crisped pieces of prosciutto lay on top of the melon and large, pillowy leaves of basil finished the dish. I grilled romaine then generously topped them with anchovy vinaigrette and dotted little that with little jewels of roasted cherry tomatoes over the green, wilted leaves. The main course boasted a dried plum (it sounds so much better than prune) and prosciutto stuffed pork tenderloin that nestled into a bed of Parmesan polenta. We ate while the two cows and horse watched from the field across the driveway.

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

Forty years needs to be celebrated well. 14,609 days of choosing to love another person, of saying I do again and again and holding firm to the commitment they promised to the other when they were both young.

“What is something that you guys have learned from our marriage?” My dad asked while we ate.

I thought for a moment but it didn’t take long for me to respond. “You’ve shown me what it looks like to strive for friendship. Both of you seek the other as your best friend. You work hard to maintain that friendship and have never grown complacent in that.”

Writing about dating my husband feels as if I’m writing a book on marriage with recipes. And as someone who has been reading books about relationships since I was barely dating, I feel up to the challenge, am loving analyzing marriages – mostly mine – and trying deeply to understand what makes them successful. What I come back to again and again is the very lesson that my parents taught me – it’s friendship and an untiring striving to maintain the friendship.

I don’t remember long conversations about maintaining a friendship in marriage but I saw my parents live it. I saw them nurture their shared interests and I heard their desire to spend time with the other. They not only love each other, they like each other. Seems simple. And it is. But it is just as easy to neglect the friendship and allow complacency to reside in its place.

Our date nights are one of the ways Gabe and I work on our friendship. It’s for us and our marriage but it also is for our children to see he and I putting an effort into our marriage. It’s easy for me to feel badly about the simple pasta that I’ve made for the kids while I prepare a feast for their dad and I. But they are happy with their pasta, or grilled cheese or leftovers or pb&j, and they see us working on our marriage. My hope is they will have an understanding when they marry that effort is needed for a relationship to thrive. That they won’t be blindsided by the difficulties in marriage and will have an example of the two of us continually building on our friendship, the foundation of our marriage.

Someday I hope Gabe and I can sit at a table with our children celebrating 40, 50, 60 years of friendship. That’s over 3,000 dates to build on our friendship while sitting at a table enjoying great food. I like the sound of that.

Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crispy Prosciutto // Not WIthout Salt

 

Tuscan Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Crisped Prosciutto

serves 4

 

1 small tuscan melon (or cantaloupe), peeled, seeds removed and sliced in 1/4” wedges

3 slices prosciutto

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons honey

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil (plus more whole leaves for garnish)

salt & pepper (lots of pepper)

 

Arrange on the melon on a platter and set aside.

Set a cast iron skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the prosciutto slices in a single layer and cook 1-2 minutes on each side or until crisp. Transfer the prosciutto to a rack or some paper towels until you are ready to serve. This can be done a few hours in ahead if you keep it well covered once cool.

In a bowl combine the olive oil, lime juice, honey and basil. Whisk to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the melon then roughly crumble the prosciutto on top of that. Finish with a few large leaves of basil then serve immediately.

 

Thanks again to Steve for making the event incredibly beautiful and to my husband for taking the photos.

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Fig and Melon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette

Fig and Melon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette // Not Without Salt

Monday morning began slowly, as they often do. It was the sort of weekend that could have used an additional day to recover but I had days of work to catch up with only a single day to make that happen. But there I sat, at my desk, motionless.

“Seeking inspiration,” I began to type. No. “In need of a good dose of inspiration.” Nope.

I couldn’t even manage to write a tweet worthy of posting in order to ask for a bit of something, anything, that might encourage me to start working.

My entire body longed for the sort of internal pick-me-up that would set me on the course for an efficient day and one that would flood my weary body with the creative energy I need to thrive. Instead I opened my inbox and began sorting through the sixty unread emails, one by one.

Later that day I found myself at the grocery store. I hadn’t wanted to go but I stepped in through the sliding doors and smelled basil, sweet and softly liquorice scented. Two aisles were just for stone fruits with four different varieties of Pluots and yet another called an Aprium. I smelled each variety and put a few of each into a brown paper bag with no plans or recipe in mind, I just needed to have them. Suddenly I was reeling with ideas for dinner and many meals beyond that.

I bought 5 ears of sweet corn for the Ashley in February who will long for the wooden crate in the market to be filled with the vibrant green covered corn complete with stringy husks and variegated sweet kernels.

Fig and Melon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette // Not Without Salt

Fig and Melon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette // Not Without Salt

I knew the tomatoes would make me weak with their flesh in shades of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. It was the purple tinted cherry tomatoes that I grabbed along with a few heavy heirlooms that ended up as yesterday’s lunch on garlic-rubbed and toasted bread.

From two aisles over I spotted the figs. They are expensive, those figs, and I’ve fallen for their charm before while trying to relive the taste of the ones I plucked off the tree on some abandoned road in Italy. Or the sweet, seedy flesh of those that the farmers in pickup trucks would deliver to Spago. But most the time I end up with a sad representation of those dreamy figs and regretting the $5 I spent on a small basket of them. Not this time. In order to lure those of us who get soft at the sight of their ruby interior made even more shocking next to their chartreuse skin, there were a few whose flesh had been cut into. I grabbed a basket then headed straight for the melons with plans to replicate a salad I hadn’t stopped thinking since the days I’d enjoyed it.

I couldn’t remember it exactly so did my best to make a vinaigrette bright with lemon and just creamy enough to feel indulgent. Frankly, I didn’t rely too heavily on the vinaigrette knowing that it just needed to not out-do the produce that it would cover. Like make-up well done, it only needed to enhance what was already stunning. Just when I thought I was ready to start thinking about squash, apples and cool evenings I find these figs and want to hold on to summer until I’ve had my fill.

Fig and Melon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette // Not Without Salt

 


Prosciutto, Arugula and White Truffle Sandwich // Not Without Salt

 

 

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Fig and Melon Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette

serves 4-6

inspired by a similar salad I enjoyed at Cafe Presse in Seattle

Vinaigrette

 

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons Olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

1 tsp champagne vinegar

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

Salt and lots of pepper

 

1/2 head red lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces

1/2 small tuscan melon peeled, seeded and cubed or sliced

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

5-7 fresh, ripe figs quartered

feta

Combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings remembering that the melon and figs are both sweet so you want the vinaigrette to be quite bright and pop-y.

 

Toss the melon, lettuce and red onion in a bowl along with the vinaigrette.

Put the dressed greens on a platter and finish with the fresh figs along with some crumbled feta.

Enjoy immediately.

 

Prosciutto Sandwich with Arugula and White Truffle

serves 4

 

inspired by a sandwich from Delaurenti at Pike Place Market

 

1 baguette

soft butter

scant 1/2 pound prosciutto

3 cups arugula

white truffle oil

 

Cut the baguette and spread butter on both sides of the bread. Fill the sandwich with the prosciutto.

In a small bowl drizzle the arugula with just a bit of white truffle oil. I prefer the truffle flavor to be soft and subtle so I only added about 10 small drops of oil.

Fill the sandwich with the arugula. Slice the baguette into smaller portions and serve with the fig and melon salad.

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Grilled Greens Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Grilled Greens with Anchovy Vinaigrette // Not Without Salt

Over the past few months I’ve been working with S.Pellegrino to develop and photograph dozens of recipes. You guys, it has been so hard not sharing these recipes with you immediately, so you can imagine my excitement now that the program has officially launched and I can finally share the recipes and photos from this project. I grilled some bananas, wrapped goat cheese in buttery pastry, rolled up pork with prosciutto and dried plums and made a caramel sauce using fresh blackberries that really should win me a trophy. It’s been a pretty delicious season.

On the blog I’ll be highlighting some of my favorites but there are many more recipes appearing on their Facebook page daily over the next few months.

For example, this salad. Before you put that grill away for the season I’m urging you to make this salad. It is a sort of Caesar-like salad that’s heavy on anchovy – which I realize is not the most loved flavor – but if you do love it then get on this salad. A hearty head of romaine handles the heat of the grill. Some of the leaves gently wither in the heat while most retain their crisp bite picking up the smoky flavor that we all love about grilled food. Fresh or oven-roasted tomatoes thrown on top would be a welcomed addition. The dressing is pungent, fishy, but delightfully so (says the girl who is just starting to like fish) and addicting. I wouldn’t be opposed to large shavings of Parmesan either or large, golden-crisp garlic croutons. For the days when the grill has been covered and tucked into storage a grill pan does the job too.

Click here for the full recipe.

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As a contributor for S.Pellegrino’s Practice the Art of Fine Food program I created this recipe and post along with many others that can be found on their Facebook page here.

Grilled Greens Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Find the recipe here.

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The one that gets made

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First Apricot pie of the season.

July 27, 2013

 

There had been talk of an apricot pie. My brothers and I put in our not-so-subtle requests fueled by the memory of mom’s tender crust and the interior that puddles onto the plate and turns blush-toned yet soft spoken apricots into a perfectly tart and nutmeg-laced pie.

It seemed that as soon as I took the last bite of my sandwich – one made of mom’s homemade rolls via my great-aunt’s recipe and a salmon and crab salad made with salmon caught a couple weeks ago by my dad in Alaska and crab caught that morning by us – she was already making quick work of her dough.

“I’ll make a pie if someone else cleans the kitchen.” Mom bargained while I lingered at the table cleaning my plate of the pink-fleshed and basil laced salmon salad that escaped my sandwich. My brothers and sisters-in-law made quick work of the kitchen knowing that it was a small price to pay for our mom’s apricot pie.

She pulled out the recipe card written in bright pink ink and with water marks splashed over the “cups”, “juice” and “flour”. My mom has used the same recipe card for as long as I can remember which was copied from my grandmother’s recipe card which she used for years before that.

From the first apricot pitted to the pie in the oven it was no more than 20 minutes. My mother is a master pie maker.  While we waited the kids rode Nova, the deep leather colored horse that lingers next to the two cows in the fields and a few of us remained inside sipping our Gin & Tonics anticipating the pie as the scent grew to fill the house.

My mom apologized for cutting into the runny pie too soon while scooping it onto our plates. Steam still rose through “A” she cut on the top of the crust. The apricots shimmied to the corners of the plates revealing their vibrant orange color and melting the ice cream above them. We all risked burned tongues unable to wait any longer to taste something so familiar and yet scarce as apricots come and go so quickly – often before we have the chance to all be together and beg mom to make us yet another pie.

Apricot Pie // Not Without Salt

 

Apricot Pie // Not Without Salt

Second apricot pie of the season.

August 3, 2013

 

“Can you take of picture of the apricot pie recipe and send it to me?” I texted my mom with the taste of her pie still lingering.

She sent me the recipe. “I add more of everything.” She added.

Friends were coming to stay the weekend and I had made it my mission to fill the house and their stomachs with great food. I wanted them to walk away from their stay full and well loved.

Pulling up my favorite crust recipe – one that greatly differs from both my mom’s and grandma’s I made quick work of pie and wondered why I had waited so long to make my first summer pie.

While our crusts are very different I worked diligently to follow the filling recipe as closely as I could muster. It is so hard for me to follow a recipe but this one needs no adjustments. Although, I’m not sorry for the specks of vanilla seeds that I decided to throw in at the last minute.

After dinner I brought out the pie to a chorus of “ohhhhh” and “piiiiiieeeeeee”. While the kids filled dozens of water balloons and slowly trickled in to where we were when the news of pie spread, we cleaned our plates quickly and with little talking.

What remained of that pie was brought out for breakfast the next morning.

Apricot Pie // Not Without Salt

Third apricot pie of the season.

August 5, 2013

 

Their creased sides lined up one by one in a slanted wooden crate at the farmer’s market. Blushed cheeks and bruiseless flesh was all the convincing I needed to make another pie.

In a not ideal pie making scene – 80 degree kitchen in the middle of a busy working day – I pulled myself from the computer to make pie. Because if I don’t have time to make countless pies in the summertime when the produce begs to be covered in a flaky crust, then I’m too damn busy.

Two days ago the crust was perfect and rolled out with no problems. This third pie threatened to break the joy that brimmed from the mere thought of what was to come. Too wet and sticky, the dough ripped, pulled and stuck to every surface it touched. I pushed forward and made a patchwork of the bottom and top crusts. Even the filling seemed doomed when some of the apricots I bought from the market the day before had already burst from their thin skin and began to bruise and mold. Two nectarines took the place of some of the apricots and I remained steadfast to this third pie.

I dusted the top with sugar and stuck it in the oven telling myself that its ugly exterior was fine because really the perfect pie is the one that gets made.

No one could guess the pathwork once the pie came out of the oven. It looked beautiful and smelled even better. And with this pie I found one of my favorite ways to eat it – straight from the pan, slightly warm, after a picnic dinner with steak sandwiches, horseradish butter, pesto laden green beans with capers and a onion-spiked salad of tomatoes and peaches. But it is in the morning, when the house is quiet and the coffee is warm, that pie is best served.

Apricot Pie // Not Without Salt

 

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Apricot Pie

makes enough for 1 pie

 

2 1/2 pounds pitted and halved apricots

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 vanilla bean, seeds removed (optional)

1 tablespoon butter

 

I make the fill while the dough chills.

Combine everything, except the butter,  in a bowl and mix well to combine.

Pie Dough

 

2 ⅓ cup (11.75 oz) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 sticks (8 oz) cold butter, cut in small cubes

2 tablespoon oil (I use a neutral, flavorless oil)

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1-3 tablespoons cold water

 

In the large bowl add the dry ingredients and whisk until light and no clumps remain. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients then use your hands to break up the butter. With your fingers smear the little butter cubes with the flour so that flat pieces of pea size butter remain. In the mixing some butter will get incorporated into the flour making it look a bit like cornmeal. You want a mix of this and large pieces of butter in the flour.

Add the oil, cream and 1 tablespoon cold water. Again, use your hands to mix the ingredients. Evenly distribute the parts that have more liquid until the whole mix feels evenly damp. Squeeze a bit of the dough in your hands. If it comes together and holds its shape it is ready. If it still crumbles once squeezed add a bit more water until the dough just holds.

Divide the dough in two round discs about 1/2″ thick with one having a bit more dough than the other – this will be the top crust.

Wrap in plastic wrap then refrigerate for one hour so that the butter can get good and chilled and the liquid will absorb into the flour.

 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

 

Rolling out the dough

 

Roll out the smaller of the two doughs first on a evenly floured surface. I like to roll out my dough on a silpat so my counters stay bit cleaner and I find that I have to use less flour. The dough should be about 1/8″ thick.

Gently roll this dough around your rolling pin then unroll over the pie pan.

Fill the pie with your prepared fruit (recipe above) and dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Then repeat with the next disc of dough.

Roll out the top crust to 1/4” thick then roll it up on the pin and place on the pie. Tuck in the edges to create a thick crust.

Place the pie on a sheet tray to catch any juices that fall from the pie. Sprinkle the top of the crust with sugar and cut small slits in the dough to allow steam to escape, then bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 – 1 hour and 15 minutes.

It’s possible that my pie takes longer than yours as I am notorious for opening the oven frequently at the end to sneak a glimpse of the golden crust and the bubbles the slowly rise and pop on the crusts surface. It’s best to look for the signs that the pie is done rather than trust the time.

You’ll know the pie is done when the edges are deep golden and the juices bubble in a graceful and methodical way. The juices should look a bit syrupy.

Let the pie cool for several hours before serving and ALWAYS save a slice for breakfast.

 

 

Tips

* Don’t be afraid to use flour when rolling out the dough. Dust the surface with flour in a swift motion with your hand at an angle coming from the side to get an even layer of flour. You don’t want large clumps of flour worked into the dough.

* Work quickly and with cold ingredients. Large flecks of cold butter mean flakes are in your future.

* Use a bench scraper to gently lift up the dough.

* Keep the dough moving. Give the dough a few rolls with the pin then give it a gentle wiggle to make sure it’s not stuck. If it feels tacky add a bit more flour. If the butter is getting too soft just put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

* Bottom crusts are notorious for being a bit soggy. I do my best to offset this by rolling out the bottom crust quite thin. The top crust then has more of a chance to shine in all its thick, sugar crusted glory.

* Glass pie pans are my favorite.

* If you see Gravensteins (the best apple for pie) at the store buy them and make a pie. Even if the sight of them causes you to wince at the ending of summer. Do it. Throw a couple apricots in the mix if it makes you feel better.

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Croissant Loaf + giveaway

Croissant Loaf // Not Without Salt

* The winners have been selected. Thanks to all who commented. I’ve read every single one and am completely in awe of the kindness in this space. You all encourage me when I need it the most. Thank you. And thanks again to Cinnamon Hill for hosting the giveaway. If you didn’t happen to win you can still order a grater of your own from their site.

She follows me into to the bathroom and reaches into my silver and stained make-up bag just as I do. First she watches as I brush a light powder on my nose, by my eyes and wherever else needs a little glow. “I do it all by myself.” She says grabbing the brush from my hands. She brushes away loopy brown curls to make way for the soft bristles that carry with them a fine pink powder. Some fall from the brush and dance around her with the light coming from the window behind. For her eyeshadow goes on cheeks, mascara on eyelids and lipstick everywhere.

On the couch we’re tangled up together watching a movie and a burst of gushy love overwhelms as I have one of those, “this is MY girl” moments that happens approximately 3,728 times a day. I cusp her cheeks in my hands and kiss her face a dozen times. Then she turns to me and puts her little fingers on my face and kisses me again and again.

“I love you.” I say.

“I wub woo too.” She says.

In the kitchen I pull my apron off the hook and just as I’m tying it tightly around my waist I hear her bounding up next to me. “Me too?” She asks pointing to her apron that is similar to mine in color and pattern but not size. I attach the velcro strap then she shimmies the stool to the counter eager to help dump and stir.

Croissant Loaf // Not Without Salt

“Gentle.” I say telling her about all the butter tucked into the layers of the croissant dough.

She watches me roll the dough then repeats the action with a little less finesse but with just as much joy. When it seems like I’m not watching, little fingers rip at the corner of the dough to get a taste of butter, flour and yeast. Smiling, I say nothing.

Together we crouch at the oven, peering into the dirty glass window hoping to get a peak at the rising dough. She sees my excitement and mirrors it with more vigor, a goofy grin and inhaling sharply with anticipation. I laugh at her enthusiasm and my own as we both return our glances to the oven.

Sometimes I notice that Ivy sneezes when I sneeze even though she doesn’t have the allergies I do. She wants to change her clothes if she sees me in a dress and she’s wearing pants. Her adeptness in wearing high heels at 2 1/2 is shocking. As I flip through my copy of Food & Wine and all the glowing food photos pop up she can hardly contain her excitement. “Oohhh, dat looks good.”

Even with all her independence she mirrors me and looks to me for how she should act and react. Often this goes unnoticed but the other night as she lay with me in bed and pretended to act interested in watching the Dust Bowl documentary and wiped her nose just as I did and sighed when I did, the weight of this fell on me pretty hard.

Croissant Loaf // Not Without Salt

So to my daughter who sees my every move, I want to say;

Ivy, my love, may I live a life that’s worth copying and be the sort of woman that’s worthy of being mirrored. May I humbling admit to you my errors so you can see that real strength shows itself in vulnerability. I hope you see me growing, changing and evolving too. Learn from my mistakes and learn from yours too. Accept them and be, dare I say happy with them because without mistakes there aren’t the lessons learned that are really worth learning.

Ivy, I hope you figure out quickly that I don’t have all the answers and I will try not to pretend that I do. I do however, have enough love, wisdom and strength to be your mama and I know that because you are here and you are mine and Someone thinks I’m fit for this position.

Thanks for watching me so that I can be accountable to my words. So that I’ll pinch at the cushy layer around my hips less, and quit trying to deny the things I need – like quiet and a little space – because I want you to not be afraid to ask for what you need. And along those same lines I hope you see me asking for help. I’m just learning how to do that and goodness, I hope you figure that lesson out more quickly than me because it’s amazing to be feel loved and those who love you are just aching to help you. Watch your dad and I work intentionally on our marriage. Forget what you heard Cinderella say the other night, because even though you may indeed experience the grace of finding “the one” you need to know that “the one” will disappoint you at times and make mistakes but, little girl, it’s still a fairy tale and real life fairy tales are so much prettier than the movies. Because scabs, wounds and trials just make us shinier. And they give us stories worth telling.

Also, don’t ever let the magic of a butter, flour, salt and yeast transforming into a luxurious loaf that we then slather with sticky and tart apricot jam not impress you. Stand at the window of the oven with your daughter, someday, and show her that magic. It’s little things like this that add up to a big life.

And finally, thank you. I’m such a better woman because of you, my little girl.

Croissant Loaf // Not Without Salt Croissant Loaf // Not Without Salt

 

 

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Croissant Loaf

Disclaimer: This is in no way related to the “cronut” (the extremely popular and hyped croissant/ donut hybrid) although Sarah has lovingly referred to it as the “croloaf”. I simply refer to it as the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time.

I realize that it’s not fair to assume that many, if any, of you have extra croissant dough lying around as I did but my hope is that this loaf will entice you enough to tackle the wonderful beast that is croissant dough. It’s really not as fussy as you may think. I’ve found a couple of great sources here and here for you to see the recipe and process. It just takes time – wait time, but in the waiting flavor is developing, gluten is relaxing and all around good things are happening. 

This loaf was born out of scraps and then the second one came because I loved the first so much. I adore croissants, of course I do, but the loaf version gives more surface for jam and then think of the possibilities – a blt served between two slices, french toast, eaten alone straight from the pan. 

So what I have is more idea then straight recipe BUT I also come bearing gifts. 10 to be exact. I was sent the cinnamon grater you see in the photo above from the folks at Cinnamon Hill. I’ve tried grating my cinnamon on a microplane and in a spice grinder with not much luck. This little grater gives you the fluffiest little specks of the most fragrant cinnamon I’ve ever had. It’s so potent that when I let my kids smell it one little monkey bumped the other monkey who then inhaled the cinnamon. There were tears – now that’s fresh. 

I asked the cinnamon people if they’d let me give out a grater and they responded by saying, “let’s give 10!” Awesome. So comment here and you’re entered. Simple. I’ll randomly choose 10 when I get back from a little vacation next week and then 10 of you will get a lovely little cinnamon grater too.

Now, a recipe of sorts.

 

2 pounds croissant dough

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons or so, freshly grated cinnamon

 

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

 

Using the scraps from the croissant dough or just cut strips of the dough, lay a few strips in the bottom of a buttered loaf pan. Sprinkle the layer with a bit of sugar and cinnamon. Continue the layering until the pan is 2/3 full.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a cloth. Let the dough rise for 1 hour. If the dough was cold this may take longer. Press gently on the dough and when it springs back after you press in it’s ready for baking. It should look puffed but still a bit tight.

In a small bowl combine the egg yolk and water and brush on top of the loaf then finish with a bit more sugar.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake for 1 – 1 hour 15 minutes. If the loaf begins to brown too quickly turn down the oven a bit. It takes this loaf quite a while to bake through.

Let cool on a wire rack in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting and finish cooling.

 

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Dating My Husband: Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet

Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet // Not Without Salt

“What do you think it is?” I asked Gabe as we talked about the lack of connection we had both been feeling lately.

“I’m not sure.” He replied solemnly and with an exhausted sigh.

Our marriage had been moving smoothly just a couple weeks before this conversation. In fact we were better than smooth. On a recent trip away I had a moment standing next to my husband where I felt that there was no one else I would rather be with. I squeezed his hand a little tighter, looked up at his face and said, “You’re my favorite person.” “You’re mine too.” He said.

Then we came home and life settled back into a hectic routine. Even though we were only gone two days it seemed like it took us two weeks to get back into a rhythm.

“I’d like to think it’s because we haven’t had a date night in two weeks.” I said sort of jokingly. For one reason or another we pushed our at home date night’s aside. Well, I know the reasons. One of the weeks we went out on an actual go-out-of-the-house-date – to a fundraising dinner with a bit of schmoozing that I’m so terrible at. It was a wonderful evening of great food and wine for a cause that we both feel passionate about. And the other reason I hesitate to even mention because it’s ridiculous and almost a little too honest, even for me. But the truth is that I felt ahead on the book, you know, the one I’m writing about the importance of dating my husband. So I spent that week retesting a few recipes but never had an actual date night. The truth is, the book is keeping me incredibly accountable to actually dating my husband, which is an incredible gift but when I felt ahead on the book as a project, I failed to make our date night the priority it needs to be.

We had been going through our days feeling like the other would rather not have the other around. Little biting comments filled our conversation and pulled us further apart. But that night I was planning a date. A little reluctantly as I didn’t want to continue to face our awkward and at times painful conversations. When we let too much time slip in between the dates it is sometimes hard to establish that routine again but we did it.

Sitting down to dinner our conversation was like starting up an old car. It chugged, sputtered and smoked before the engine revved and purred. We cleared the table of our dishes then settled back onto the couch where we continued to talk until 1 am. It was a great conversation but that’s not really the point. We just talked, connected and felt like best friends again. I chose him over sleep the way I used to when we were dating and staying up way too late just to be near one another.

Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet // Not Without Salt

Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet // Not Without Salt

Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet // Not Without Salt

I fell asleep in his arms feeling hopeful and incredibly connected to him.

“It really does work.” I said to him the next morning.

“What works?”

“Our date nights.”

Of course I know they are good for us and I know that I enjoy indulging in the food that accompanies our date nights at home but to see us go from weeks of frustrating disconnection and feeling distant and against one another then after one night feeling completely connected  - well, it gave me even more passion for the book we’re creating.

So this week, even though our date night falls on the night America will be blowing things up and we’ll be driving 4 hours in a day to celebrate the blowing up of things with my family, and photo shoots, hanging out with friends and all the other stuff that fills up a week, I knew we needed a date. I kept it simple, which I’m not always known to do. We put the kids to bed in our too hot house and made ourselves a drink – well, more like a dessert/drink hybrid.

He plopped a still soft scoop of nectarine sorbet into my glass and splashed the bourbon and lemon juice that pooled in the bottom of the cup onto the table. Immediately the rose colored sorbet began to melt into the drink infusing the bourbon with its fragrant sweetness. Little specks of vanilla bean floated to the top while Gabe twisted a ragged piece of lemon peel over the glass misting it with a citrusy and floral perfume. I quickly snapped a few pictures of our cocktail before I whisked it off the table to enjoy it and my husband while the evening sun, still warm, set behind our neighbor’s house.

When we build the date nights into our weekly routine I find us eager to seize other opportunities to connect. A drink in the evening with my husband becomes a moment to build on intimacy. Even quick conversations throughout the day become easier and help build on our friendship. We send one another texts throughout the day – pictures of the kids, funny things we see, or just checking in on the other. Little things that add up to big things in the course of a lifetime together.

At the root of it all we both desire to be one another’s person. He wants to see me as his best friend and I long for him to be the one that I want to hang out with if given a choice of anyone. And when we both feel that then we are happy in the marriage. If something feels off it’s so often because our friendship is off.

The point is, these nights work. Dating your husband, your wife, whoever you doing life with, really works. I’ve seen it again and again in our marriage and the more I date my husband the more excited and passionate I become to spread this message. I feel like that 90 year-old juice fanatic, “If it works for me it can work for you.” And I guess I’m okay with that because we’re talking about marriages and relationships here – it’s a big deal. Just as we strive to feed our bodies foods that nourish and help our bodies thrive we need to feed the friendship in our marriages.

A relationship is built on friendship and friendship takes time. If you want to have a good friend you have to make the time.. If you want to be a good friend, that takes time too. And if there happens to be a bit a bourbon alongside that friendship building, well, I’m okay with that.

Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet // Not Without Salt

 

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Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet

It turns out Gabe and I have a thing for cocktails. The original plan for the book was to include a few but we just can’t stop ourselves. We are just having too much fun coming up with new ideas and all the “research” that goes along with that. This is one of our current favorites. Seattle is experiencing a bit of a heat wave currently and this grown-up float/slushie-type drink does good work of chasing away the heat. If you prefer peaches you can easily swap those in. I was also thinking plum might be nice.

If bourbon isn’t for you, go ahead and make the sorbet anyway. It’s good one to have around. The presence of alcohol in the sorbet is needed to prevent the sorbet from freezing too firm but you can use something other than bourbon if you prefer.

2 pounds (4-5) nectarines, pitted

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1 vanilla bean, split

2 tablespoons bourbon (or other alcohol)

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

pinch salt

In a small saucepan combine the brown sugar, water and vanilla bean and bring to a boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Carefully stir in the bourbon and cook for 30 seconds more before removing from the heat. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean (wash it off and set it in your sugar container to flavor your sugar with vanilla).

Puree the nectarines in a food processor. Carefully add the warm sugar syrup, lemon juice, zest and salt.

Strain this mixture and chill.

Process in your ice cream machine according to the instructions.

If this is destined for a cocktail you could just use the puree to flavor it or stick it in a freezer-safe container in the freezer and drag a fork all over the surface every 20 minutes or so. After a few hours you will have a fluffy granita which would make for a great bourbon slushie.

For the cocktail:

Place 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon in your cup along with 1-2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Add 1 scoop of sorbet to the cup and finish with a splash of club soda. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the cup before gingerly tossing it in. Enjoy. Preferably outside with someone who you are quite fond of.Bourbon Float with Nectarine Sorbet // Not Without Salt

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Mortadella and Smoked Mozzarella Panini with Pistachio Pesto



Pistachio Pesto Panini // Not Without Salt

After I posted this simple pasta with creamy chevre, melted leeks and bacon I received a number of thank yous for sharing the sort of recipe that’s perfect for a weekday dinner and then came the requests for more like it.

I want this blog to not only be a source of inspiration but also to be used. I want to imagine the recipes, printed, set on your kitchen counter and getting splattered with a bit of olive oil and stained from strawberry juice. The thought of your computer opened up to this page on the edge of the counter while you cook this recipe makes me giddy, proud and a bit nervous – don’t drop your computer.

I want these recipes to feed you, your family and your neighbor down the street.

Inspiring, yet accessible – that’s what I’m going for. Not every recipe fits this category as I can also tend to get a bit crazy in the kitchen (hello, homemade bitters and butterfingers, I’m looking at you) but most, I hope, do.

Our dinners are rarely repeated, even more rarely cooked from an actual recipe and sometimes are so simple I fear they aren’t worth mentioning. But they’re real, simple and more often than not – quite delicious and satisfying. Unless you ask my kids. Their response is often moans and snarled lips if it’s anything other than a simple pasta or these sandwiches. However, there were no complaints with this meal.

The work comes from gathering the ingredients with this recipe. Mortadella and smoked mozzarella can be found at most stores and if you can’t find it use a good quality ham and go for an unsmoked cheese. Honestly, it’d still be a darn good sandwich without the meat.

The pesto nearly steals the show – it’s bright, fresh, peppery and hard to stop eating it with just a spoon. Like most of our weekday dinners, I try and think ahead and plan for the next day’s meals while I’m taking the time to cook this one. For that reason there’s a lot of pesto here. The next morning we stirred pesto into our eggs and then for dinner the following day there was a simple pesto pasta with a bit more cheese and roasted tomatoes. Suddenly a simple weekday dinner turns into an even simpler dinner for the next night.

I hope this recipe gets used, splattered, shared and enjoyed.

IMG_1888

Pistachio Pesto Panini // Not Without Salt

 

 


sandwich sandwich2

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Mortadella and Smoked Mozzarella Panini with Pistachio Pesto

makes about 2 cups pesto

You really can use practically any combination of herbs you like. I went for arugula and mint because I love the pepper flavor the arugula adds and the bright and fresh taste of mint. And, this is the real reason – because I have both growing in abundance in the garden.

1 1/2 cups arugula, tightly packed

2 tablespoons fresh mint

1 cup pistachios, roasted and salted

2 garlic cloves

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

Combine the arugula, mint, pistachios, garlic and Parmesan in a food processor. Pulse until everything is well pureed. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl to get it all well chopped.

While the machine is running stream in the lemon juice and olive oil. Don’t process too much as this tends to bruise the olive oil and add a slight bitterness.

Taste and adjust the flavors. A little salt here is fine too.

 

For the sandwich:

smoked mozzarella, sliced

mortadella

olive oil

thick slices of good bread

 

Get a grill pan or panini press nice and hot. A skillet works fine too.

Drizzle the outside of the bread with olive oil. Slather a good amount of pesto on the inside of both halves. Layer in slices of mortadella with smoked mozzarella.

Grill the sandwich on both sides until golden, crisp and the cheese is melted.

Serve immediately.

 

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Roasted Strawberry Milkshake

Roasted Strawberry Milkshake // Not Without Salt

This story has nothing and yet everything to do with roasted strawberry milkshakes. Regardless, I’m going to tell it if for the only reason that I can’t get it out of my head until I get it onto paper (or the screen as the case may be).

Gabe and I sat down to a simple meal – a sort of unintended date night. The kids were already in bed and we hadn’t eaten yet, so I stumbled into the kitchen to make us some dinner.

At the edge of the table I set out a cloth napkin and placed the hot cast iron skillet on top. In it tomatoes danced around long-simmered poblano peppers and onions with a few just-set eggs in the middle of it all. Next to the skillet I laid out some homemade bread – too dense, too wheaty and yet, homemade so it really wasn’t too bad.

Our plates sat by the hot pan and I lifted my phone above the scene just enough so that the bread, the skillet and our plates were in view. As I studied the image I noticed that a few random papers made their way into the corner of the frame. I pushed them just out of view and tried for another shot. This time a few of our computer cables cluttered the top right of the image and I shoved them aside and tried again.

Three-quarters of our table was a mess of papers, books, spiderman coloring pages, hello kitty stickers, coffee cups and clumps of oatmeal from the morning. I opted to only shoot the last quarter of our table that showed a simple, yet beautiful meal. I paused that moment which showed two people about to sit down together, after a long day, to enjoy dinner and one another.

For some reason this scene grabbed my attention. For a moment I asked myself, am I being deceitful? It’s not really the whole picture. The reality is the table was a disaster and we were relegated to a fraction of it, tucked deep into the corner because the mess from the day still showed.

But then an even louder voice shuddered the shame and told me, this is what it looks like to have eyes for joy. To be able to focus on the fraction that isn’t messy, that shows beauty and truth and a gift rather than concentrate on the mess.

I hold Ivy tightly on the couch, our legs intertwined. She nestles into my chest as if she’s a part of me. I alternate between kissing the top of her head and smelling it. Breathing in the moment, I count it as joy.

Roasted Strawberry Milkshake // Not Without Salt

Roasted Strawberry Milkshake // Not Without Salt

Baron’s words move faster than I can listen as he spouts of the plan for his clan in his new favorite game, Clash of Clans. He’s bursting to boast of his scheme and we listen intently not because we’re so thrilled by his stockpile of gold but because he’s so happy. I squeeze his cheeks together so his lips pucker and his eyes squish against the weight of my hands just as they did when I squished his baby cheeks together. I kiss him regardless of disgusted groans. His smirk doesn’t hide the fact that he still loves my squeezes. This moment is joy.

Gabe came home from the grocery store and before he even made it into the kitchen I could smell the sweet earthy scent radiating from the flat of strawberries he brought home. The kids and I eagerly descended upon the box and immediately stained our fingers with their sweet and vibrant juice. One bite and I had visions of ducking into the rows of berries to pick pounds and pounds to get us through the winter. That taste, so simple and familiar, is joy.

These moments are tucked in between the spilled milk, a relentless pile of laundry, a sink full of dirty dishes, bandaging a scraped knee and a word that falls painfully on my heart. I can choose to go through my day and see only the things that need to be done and the things that I’m not doing but I want a life that recognizes the spurts and bursts of joy that interject our days. I want to laugh as infectiously as the Car Talk brothers and be the source of someone else’s smile. I want to hold my kids tight in this moment not longing for the past or fretting about what’s next but enjoying this moment. I want to sit at the end of a table with my husband and talk to him about his day while ignoring the mess on the other side. I want to pause in the middle of drinking my milkshake and take in its sweetness and soft vanilla scent wading through the pink straw and recognize it for the gift it really is.

I’m still new at this. It is a habit I’m developing. When I’m present to my day even the laundry pile is a reminder of how fortunate we are. The scraped knee is a reminder to be thankful for our bodies that move, grow and heal. It’s not some sort of sappy, false happiness, it’s much greater than that. It’s so much easier for me to let things pile on and feel burdened and distraught but what a better way to live – to present to the joy and recognize its presence all around.

Roasted Strawberry Milkshake // Not Without Salt

Roasted Strawberry Milkshake // Not Without Salt

 

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Roasted Strawberry Milkshake

A hot oven never ceases to amaze me. I sit in awe in front of the oven window watching butter, flour and water turn into flaky pastry and now I’ve turned to the oven to transform fresh berries into a sweet, tart and jammy mix that makes a simple strawberry milkshake into something pretty damn magical.

All of this is very adaptable. Add sugar or not, add more berries or less, add a shot of liqueur or leave it out.

 

8 cups halved strawberries

1/4 – 1/3 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed

 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

 

Place strawberries on a parchment lined sheet tray and sprinkle with sugar. Toss the strawberries with the sugar and vanilla seeds and place the vanilla bean on the tray with the berries too.

Roast for 30-40 minutes until some of the edges of the strawberries have crisped, the berries have softened and a pool of ruby red juice covers the pan.

 

For the milkshake:

 

Place a good amount, about a pint, of vanilla ice cream into a blender or food processor along with a cup, or so, of cooled roasted berries and their juice. Blend or pulse until smooth.

Pour into cups and serve with whipped cream.

 

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Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa // Not Without Salt

When the light is golden and hazy I take my time walking down our street to look beyond Ballard and over Queen Anne hill to see the tip of the Space Needle punctuating the top. It towers above the Evergreens just before the hill dips and descends into Lake Union which isn’t seen from my walk but I like knowing it’s there.

Nearly everyday we drive over a bridge. When its arms are stretched upwards to allow a towering boat to pass through it’s a bit maddening. I can’t stay mad for long as I strain to look down its passage and if it is at just the right time of day with the sun peering through the clouds, the water under the bridge sparkles in a way that gives me a bit of a flutter and a burst of pride that I get to call this place home.

In Seattle every day there’s a farmer’s market, our compost is twice as big as our garbage bin, and we can be standing at the edge of the water with the cold ocean lapping at our feet in five minutes or in the mountains in under an hour. When the bustle of the city overwhelms we shimmy up to my parent’s house and in just over an hour we amid the rolling hills, a couple of ponies, a vibrant garden and enough bugs and threat of snakes to remind me that I’m a city girl.

I adore Seattle. It’s home and most likely will remain that way for quite a long while but I sort of feel like a fraud because you see, I don’t much like seafood. Gasp.

It is for the promise of fresh seafood that people flock to Seattle. You think of Seattle and I imagine one of the first images you see is rain and then you probably imagine a large, plump fish with silvery skin flying across a crowd and into the arms of a sturdy, orange-slickers wearing Public Market employee.

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa // Not Without Salt

 

 

It’s my distaste of salmon that I’m most embarrassed about. When I say I’m from Seattle the subject of salmon often comes up. Whoever I’m talking to recounts their love for the pink-fleshed fish and most often I’ll nod as if in agreement as I continue to let them praise the fish. Salmon is practically Seattle’s mascot, either that or a little gray rain cloud.

I once heard or read Andrew Zimmerman, or maybe it was Mark Bittman, talk about how you can grow to like certain foods you once disdained. First you eat it from a place you trust and secondly, you eat it often. I’m a firm believer in this practice as I’ve used it to get over my aversion to mushrooms and oysters. Yes, I’ll eat oysters straight from the sea with just a few drops of lemon squeezed over its briny flesh. So I imagine my love of salmon isn’t far off.

Recently I conquered step 1 when I ordered the crispy skinned salmon at Matt’s in the Market. The details of the dish allude me now but I think peas were somehow involved and I do remember that I cleaned my plate. Now I’m working on step 2. At my birthday dinner earlier this year we made salmon rilletes and most recently, in an attempt to counter-balance all the recipe testing we’ve been doing for the book, I made Gabe and I a light dinner of poached salmon with an herby and lightly spiced cucumber salsa.

 

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa // Not Without Salt Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa // Not Without Salt

The salmon lapped up a bit of Pernod then sat in a warm vegetable-laden bath until just cooked. While the salmon bathed I made quick work of the salsa throwing in a hefty bit of dill, just enough serrano to pop in some heat and plenty of lemon – zest and juice. The flesh of the fish bent under the amount of  salsa I piled on top. If I couldn’t see there was fish under the cucumber maybe I’d forget I was eating it.

But you know I actually enjoyed it. Maybe it was mostly for the satisfaction of knowing I was eating something so vibrant and healthy –  I could practically feel the Omega 3’s reinvigorating me or perhaps I felt that Seattle was cheering me on with each bite. Or more likely it was because it was quite good – tender and lightly herbal fish that made the perfect canvas for a bright salsa or salad of sorts. The plate was nearly cleaned. Just a few more encounters with salmon then I’d say I’m hooked (fish pun embarrassingly intended).

 

 

 Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa // Not Without Salt

 

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Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa

The poaching was inspired by the first part of this Salmon Rillettes recipe (which is excellent by the way) and the cucumber salsa was inspired by Bon Appetit.

This recipe is very adaptable. Whatever vegetable scraps you have can be used to fragrant the broth and the Pernod isn’t absolutely necessary. In fact you could just scrap the poaching all together as a grilled pice of salmon would be quite perfect with the salsa – that’s my next version of step 2. 

Add a bit of tangy yogurt to the salsa to make a creamy dip reminiscent of tzatziki.

 

Serves 2

2 salmon fillets

1-2 tablespoons Pernod

salt & pepper

 

Season the fish with the Pernod and salt and pepper. Let the fish sit for 30 minutes while you make the poaching liquid.

 

Poaching liquid:

 

2 celery stalks, halved

1 medium onion, quartered

1 scallion

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon juniper

a handful of dill

1 cup white wine

4 cups water

 

Bring all of the ingredients to a gentle boil in a large saucepan and simmer for 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and slide the fish into the hot liquid. Cover the pot and let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the fish and check to make sure the fish is cooked through. The flesh should flake and look opaque throughout.

Serve the fish warm with cucumber salsa.

 

Cucumber Salsa

 

1 cucumber, peeled and small diced

2 tablespoons finely chopped dill

1-2 tablespoons finely minced shallot

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 serrano chili, seed and finely diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Combine everything in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

The salsa will keep for a couple of days in the fridge although it may become a bit more wet because of the salt in the recipe.

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Salsa // Not Without Salt

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Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Sour Cream Frosting

Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

“Roman, tomorrow is your birthday. We can do anything you want. We can go get ice cream? I can make you a special dinner? Anything.” Roman sat there thinking while I bombarded him with questions marveling that I was about to watch my number two turn 5.

“I want a chocolate cake and I want it to say, ‘Baron, Roman love Mama’ and have the Lone Ranger with a gun, kicking his leg like this.” He proceeded to show me exactly what he wanted the Lone Ranger to be doing by shaping his lego Lone Ranger into the perfect position.

Chocolate cake it is. I’ll worry about the details later.

In the morning, Roman chose Fruity Pebbles from the store as it’s tradition in our house that the birthday child gets to choose any kind of cereal, even the sugary, unnaturally bright colored types that we never keep in the house unless it’s someone’s birthday. This tradition continues from my husband’s childhood and it’s one we all love and benefit from. Because yes, I totally indulged in a bowl of crackly, sort of fruit flavored pebbles that morning and also, I stole a few bits of the shells mac & cheese that the birthday boy requested for dinner. You know, the boxed kind with the fluorescent cheese powder. That box exists in our house too. And each time I rip into that box I feel a little guilty. The same guilt that I feel when I walk out the front door and my daughter says, “I want you to stay and snuggle with me.” It’s the “am I reading too little to them? Should they be taking more vitamins? I should have scratched their backs longer last night. Why did I say that and in THAT tone?” It’s that sort of guilt that piles on my shoulders weighing me down and whispering thoughts of inadequacy all throughout the day. This guilt that builds my defense before I need to defend a thing. This shame that makes me feel unworthy, unloved and constantly attacked even by my sweet children.

Lately I’ve become fed up with those feelings. What am I so afraid of that I’d burden myself with all this guilt? That my children won’t feel loved enough? Impossible. If it were attainable and if it’d prove anything to them I’d run to the moon and back for my kids. I have no question of my love for them so why then do I assume they will question it? If I’m operating out of that never ending source of love for them then they will feel loved by me, even if they want me to read another book, or scratch their backs longer or wish that I could stay home and snuggle all day.

Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

 

Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

That’s now where I’m trying to parent from – knowing full well that I love them completely. When they aren’t completely satisfied I remind them of my love, remind them that I’m human, apologize when I’ve been selfish, and walk confidently in my love for them. Because when I’m confident in that love then they are too.

And if I they ever need a reminder of my love for them I’ll tell them about their 7th and 5th birthday parties when we played games for hours under neon lights, surrounded by dozens of candy-crazed kids running around and ate fabricated pizza at Chuck E. Cheese. That’s right. We partied with Chuck E. and I got to say it was so nice walking away and not having to worry about clean up. Initially I felt guilty for going along with this plan. I’m the mom who throws epic lego/pirate parties and THEY want Chuck E. Cheese. But I love them and they loved the party.

I did, however, bring in my own cake because I draw the line somewhere. It was the same one that Roman requested on his actual birthday. The same one that I had made four times in three weeks during “the great birthday season of 2013” which brings about one cake after the other. It’s this simple chocolate cake with a tangy and bittersweet chocolate frosting, in particular, and it is always in the mood to celebrate.

This cake has been on the blog before but I really do think it’s worth mentioning again. For one thing it’s made all in one bowl, for another all the ingredients are pantry staples and finally, and most importantly, the flavor is richly chocolate, the texture is soft and springy and strong enough to hold the frosting which is loaded with bittersweet chocolate and sour cream. Although the texture and flavor of the cake really improves after a day’s rest, it can, if need be, be made and frosted in a matter of a couple hours when the birthday boy wants chocolate cake even though the to do list doesn’t allow for much room in the day, you make it happen. Not because you feel obligated too or would feel guilty if you didn’t but because you love him and that’s enough.

 Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

 

Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

 

Chocolate Birthday Cake // Not Without Salt

 

 

 

Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Sour Cream Frosting

This cake has been called “magic cake” and “dump and stir cake” which is how Regan Daley in “In the Sweet Kitchen” refers to it. Since discovering this recipe it’s been my go-to chocolate cake. I used it often when I made wedding cakes for a living. I only deviate to another recipe on occasion when I’m lured in by the addition sour cream or buttermilk in the batter but this simple recipe never fails. It’s a wonderful tasting cake that just so happens to be vegan and doesn’t have you messing with melting chocolate. It also makes fantastic cupcakes.

makes 3 8” inch layers or 24 cupcakes

 

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar (I’ve used white or brown or a combination of the two and all work well)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup vegetable oil (or other, nearly flavorless oil)

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup coffee (you can use instant espresso granules instead, 1 tablespoon mixed with 1 cup water)

1 cup water

 

Prepare three  8 inch cake pans with butter and parchment on the bottom.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl until everything is well blended.

Add the wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Evenly divide the batter between the three pans and bake until the top springs back gently when pushed, 20-25 minutes.

After 5 minutes out of the oven, cool the cakes on a wire rack before frosting.

 

 

 

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Essentially we’re making a ganache frosting but instead of cream we’re using sour cream so we’ll get a thick, creamy and tangy frosting which quite beautifully pairs with bittersweet chocolate. 

 

4 cups /1 lb 6 ounces chopped, bittersweet chocolate

2 1/2 cups / 1 lb 6 ounces sour cream

1 cup powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a large pot of simmering water. Once completely melted turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the pot of water. Stir in the sour cream until well combined. If some of the chocolate firms up, turn the heat back on to melt through. Stir until everything is well mixed and no little clumps remain.

Carefully stir in the powdered sugar and salt. Taste and adjust to your preference. It is a very tangy frosting but if you’d prefer less tang you can add a bit more sugar.

Let the frosting sit off the heat until you can easily spread it on the cake layers, for an hour or so.

 

Assembling the cake

 

Sometimes if I’m feeling up to it I’ll put a layer of jam on the cakes or a flavored simple syrup (whiskey is nice here). Simply brush the layers with the syrup or jam just to moisten and then proceed to frost.

To keep clean up easier, I put down layers of parchment to cover the cake plate, then I slide them out when I’ve finished frosting to reveal a clean plate. Because this cake is so moist, sometimes the bottom layer sticks to the parchment so I’d recommend buttering or spraying the parchment to prevent sticking.

Due to the frantic state in which I was baking the cake the layers turned out very uneven. I didn’t want to bother with trimming the layers (I get very lazy in my cake baking) so I used the frosting to help even out the layers.

Start with one layer of cake and put about 1 cup of frosting in the middle. Spread around the first layer and push any excess frosting to the sides of the cake.

Top with an additional layer and repeat the process. Take a step back to see how straight the cake is and adjust if need be.

Finish with the final cake layer. Put a large amount of frosting on the top and push the excess over the sides and frost the sides.

In leu of a crumb coat I just usually put a thick amount of frosting on to hide any crumbs. But if you’d like you could cover the cake in a light layer of frosting, which glues the crumbs to the cake, then refrigerate and frost with an additional layer of frosting once the first layer has set.

Don’t forget to top the cake with the Lone Ranger as I did.

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Bacon Day


Remember that time a few weeks ago when I promised bacon? You thought I lied didn’t you? Well, I didn’t because today is the day. Let’s just go ahead and call it bacon day because not only do I have two great recipes (a goat cheese and bacon pasta and red onion and bacon jam) but there’s a video that my brother created about bacon and me.

The video was created alongside a great local company, Hempler’s and sort of shows a bit of a day in my life. I’m a leeeettle embarrassed but more than that I am excited to finally be able show it to you all and also point you towards this great company. (Check out the site – my other brother developed it – it’s a family affair).

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Fettuccine with Goat Cheese, Leeks and Bacon // Bacon Jam

This dish is typical of our weeknight food. It comes together quickly, is based off our pantry staples and the kids don’t complain too much about a creamy pasta with bacon. This recipe is very basic so feel free to adapt to suite your needs. Once the kids have been served I like to sprinkle my serving with chili flakes.

 

8 slices of bacon roughly chopped

2 medium leeks

½ cup (4 ounces) goat cheese (chevre)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 pound fettuccine

grated Parmesan and fresh parsley for finishing

 

Cook the pasta then drain reserving some of the pasta water. Add the pasta to a large bowl.

 

In a large saute pan cook the bacon until crisp. Slice the white part of the leeks and add to the bacon. Cook until leeks are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat then stir in the thyme and goat cheese.

 

Combine the bacon and goat cheese mixture with the pasta. Add pasta water as needed to make a creamy sauce. Finish with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley. Serve hot.

 

Red Onion and Bacon Jam

I realize bacon jam was SO 2011 but let’s face it, it’s friggin’ good which also makes it SO 2013 or any year for that matter. Of course it makes a perfect burger accessory but this onion-heavy and deeply tangy version loves a breakfast sandwich or simple baked potatoes.

 

1 pound bacon, roughly chopped

3 medium red onions, sliced

½ cup brewed coffee

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

salt

 

In a large skillet cook the bacon until crisp. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is syrupy and reduced, this should take about an hour depending on the size pan you use. Stir occasionally while the jam is simmering. Once syrupy and thick taste and season as desired.

 

Once cooled place jam in an airtight container. Refrigerated the jam will keep for 1 week.

 

This jam is amazing on burgers, toast topped with a fried egg, baked potatoes, stirred into sour cream and/or cream cheese for a dip.

*The content for this project was created for Hempler’s by my brothers and myself. Our parents are proud.

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White Bean Salad with Peas and Mint

It’s not out of life’s character to move quickly, to come and go while often leaving a path of destruction not unlike the upended houses and thrown cars that get in the way of a tornado. Right now emails are coming in faster than I can respond to, we’re signing my little girl (my baby!!) up for preschool, I’m tripping over clean clothes spilling out of the confines of the basket and the dishwasher is loaded and unloaded more times that I can count in a day.

“In our next house I think we need a bigger dishwasher.” Gabe said while unloading yet another round. We’re both trying to seek some sort of sense in a season that has us both gasping for air.

These things happen. I’ve seen seasons come and go numerous times, particularly while being a parent. Just when you think you have a schedule figured out – baby is sleeping through the night, we’re getting three healthy meals on the table a day and we’re able to rest at the end of day – then suddenly something shifts and the new schedule that we took great pride in is pointless. Then in struts a new season without warning.

In our house we’re experiencing some shifting, a new busy season, and it’s provoked many moments of Gabe and I sitting on the couch staring blankly at the google calendar trying to make sense of the week. Nothing about these changes are bad – it’s multiple birthdays that call for multiple parties, book writing, new job opportunities, the start of wedding season, travel – but it’s enough to fill up the moments in our day and have us needing to seek out our priorities that don’t always get a time slot on the calendar.

The to-do list was growing by the minute last week and the 50 unread emails in my inbox were taunting me with their bold type but I knew we needed dinner. The sort that has food setting on multiple platters along the table. The kind of dinner that we ask the kids to set the table, with napkins even. They may be paper but even so a folded paper napkin with a fork and knife resting next to its crease somehow elevates the meal beyond the harried throw something on a plate because the kids are hangry dinners. Those happen too. But this time I was seeking the sort of dinner where we sit around the table and linger until the conversation dwindles and even then Gabe and I stick around for awhile while the kids carry their plates, with much of dinner still on it, into the kitchen then run off to play.

It seemed such a simple thing, in fact it was. Dinner was little more than braised chicken thighs with a bright white bean salad speckled with fresh mint, salty feta and peas that burst with spring. But sitting down to dinner reminded me that in the midst of chaos and new seasons it is vital that we stick to the routines that bind us.

It’s for this reason that our date nights are scheduled. If they weren’t their absence would go unnoticed until Gabe and I realize that something isn’t right in our marriage. These weekly nights that breed connection are like our preventative medicine – as exercise builds a strong body better ready to fight when sickness comes – our marriage is the stronger for our weekly dating exercise over a sprightly cocktail and satisfying meal.

The same is true for family dinner. I don’t want to communicate to our kids that we only have a nice meal together when there’s time. No, we make the time for it. And while I know the reality is that some nights we just can’t all linger at the table together, it’s important for our family that it’s most nights.
As we sat around the table over dinner I remembered the days when I longed for family dinners around the table. Baron used to sit in a little seat with an attached tray on the floor in our kitchen as he mumbled his way through black beans and purees of all kinds. Then when he was finally able to sit at the table with us for dinner, Roman had his turn in the little chair. We’d just sit down to dinner when suddenly Roman would start to cry and moan and demand something other than the mashed banana I was feeding him. I would leave the table with Roman while Gabe and Baron enjoyed dinner.

“When will we ever be able to eat as a family?” I lamented longing for those idillic dinners that I so eagerly wanted with our growing family.

Then came Ivy and again our meal time was split between a preschooler eager to talk about his day, a potty training and not eager to sit still toddler and a baby who didn’t want to sit on the sidelines or sit (unless in someone’s arms) in general. During those days it felt like dinner would never happen around the table. We ate in shifts and in between messes.

And then it happened, really without me even noticing. Sometime last year we were all sitting around the table.

“How was your day?” I asked Baron excited to hear about his day at school while at the same time remembering how often I was asked that question at the dinner table.

His generic response was the same as mine often was, “good”. Soon the conversation expanded beyond one word answers and we’d have to remind the kids to actually eat their food in between sentences.

Even still our dinners rarely last longer than 10 minutes, are often met with moans from all the green stuff I’m serving and much of the time is spent cleaning up spilled milk and sticky fingers. But it’s happening. We’re around the table most nights creating the habit and building the ritual. If we don’t build that into our schedule, regardless of the season we’ll one day realize that our opportunities for those dinners have passed. How terribly cliche of me but I’ve come to realize a new cliche – the cliches are true (and now I shall not say that word again because I really don’t like it).

While the romantic in me doesn’t like the need for “scheduling” time together – whether it’s date night or family dinners – the practical side of me, albeit however small that part is, realizes that in order for these times of connection to happen they need to be scheduled. The importance of those times outweighs my disdain of scheduling.

 

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White Bean Salad with Peas and Mint

serves 4 as a side

1 15 oz can or 1 1/2 cups white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
zest and juice from half a lemon
1/2 cup crumbled feta
olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine everything in a bowl. Add just enough olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper, lots of pepper, to taste.
If you are making this ahead combine everything except the mint as fresh mint tends to wilt and turn black once cut. Stir in the mint just before serving.
I like this with a bit of bread for a light lunch or served alongside chicken as a main course. Makes a great, easy picnic side dish.

*This post was inspired by the new book from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, called Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. It’s simple weeknight cooking centered around the family and dinner together. The recipes are simple yet creative and enticing. I can not wait to try the zuchini noodles with pesto.

*Recently I did an interview with Saveur. Check it out their site. And while you’re clicking around hop over to Bon Appetit where I took their new grilling book for a spin. *Spoiler* I LOVED it.

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Rhubarb Floats

“The sun,–the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man–burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory.” - Charles Dickens

No matter where in the world you live I’m sure by now you’ve heard the gleeful cries of us north westerners basking in the unseasonable warmth. It seems, for a time, we’ve skipped spring and moved right into summer. The kiddie pools have broken their winter hibernation, as have the bbq’s and picnic tables. Last night we even welcomed in s’more season with the neighbors as we all huddled around roasting marshmallows on bamboo skewers over our little Weber. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a s’more before July. And the most exciting part about this sun, at least for Baron, is Lemonade season. We have a giant bag of lemons waiting to be squeezed and our little stand is nearly ready for customers.

For me the sun is a revival in energy, warming hope and the thawing of the winter months that color my mood, as well as the sky, a sort of dull, hopeless hue.

I feel silly gushing about the weather on a blog post but 84 degrees in May calls for a bit of gushing. But for now let’s quit with the talk of weather and gush about rhubarb floats. If you’ve seen my instagram feed recently you probably have noticed that I’m a little obsessed with rhubarb syrup these days. There were rhubarb italian sodas, rhubarb sours (for the book), mojitos and just a simple soda with lime. It’s the warming floral flavor that to me is the fragrance of spring, mixed with a gentle spice and softened with vanilla bean. It’s the sun that inspired the scoop of vanilla ice cream. For now, I’m retiring root beer and demanding all my floats are of the rhubarb variety.

 

 

 

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Rhubarb Floats

Of all the many wonderful uses of rhubarb this syrup remains my favorite. It’s a fridge staple all through spring as it easily becomes the base for numerous cocktails, sodas and now ice cream floats. I love the warmth the spice brings but just rhubarb alone is great too. Feel free to play around with the add-ins. I’ve also added citrus peel into the mix with great results. 

 

4 cups/1 pound/ 450 g chopped rhubarb

1 cup + 1 tablespoon/ 8 ounces/ 230 g sugar

2 cups/ 1 pound/ 450 grams water

1 vanilla bean (optional)

1 cinnamon stick

3-5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

 

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly so the mixture continues to boil gently. Boil for 15 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by nearly half. The rhubarb will break down and the liquid will get syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup cool.

When cool, strain out the rhubarb. Save the rhubarb mash to add to yogurt, on top of ice cream or oatmeal.

Rhubarb syrup will keep covered in the fridge for two weeks.

 

For the float

These measurements are rough as it’s all a matter of taste. Adjust how you’d like. I kept on meaning to muddle strawberries with the syrup before adding the club soda and ice cream but got too excited that I forgot. Perhaps you’ll remember. Or imagine using strawberry ice cream or even coconut sorbet. So many floats to be had.

1/8 – 1/4 cup rhubarb syrup (recipe above)

1/2 cup club soda

1 scoop vanilla ice cream

 

Add the syrup to a glass. To that add a scoop of ice cream and finish with club soda. Serve with a spoon and a straw.

 

*The straws in the photos are glass and I’m in love with them. The kind people at Glass Dharma sent me a few different sizes but these little cocktail straws are my favorite. Check them out.

 

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Roasted Tomato Caprese with Avocado

All right, 2013, you’ve got my attention. You’re a big one.

Friends, it is with joy so intense I feel it in every part of my body that I get to tell you that Saveur magazine, along with all of you lovlies who voted, has named this here blog the best cooking blog of 2013. Wow. Just crazy wow.

There are so many things to say and yet I can’t hear the words beyond the excited screaming in my head.

This award is like a giant affirmation that I’m headed in the right direction and for someone, such as myself, who spends much of the time on the journey questioning. “Is this the right way? Should I turn here? Should I have kept walking straight or turned back there? Hmm. Maybe I’ll just stop here and wonder about which way to go for awhile.” This year it has been about walking forward with confidence and trusting that my steps are being guided and I’m just going along for the ride.

So I’m taking this award as a giant sign along the path that reads, “This is the right way! Keep going!”

But let’s get to the real reason why I’m here – to tell you about the best lunch I’ve had in a very long time. I mean I guess it’s not hard to beat the peanut butter and honey sandwiches that have become customary lunch around here.

No, you know what. It is hard to beat that. Peanut butter sandwiches are like eating a sweet memory from when your biggest problem was deciding which cartoon to watch. But they are still not as good as creamy slices of avocado under a layer of even creamier burrata which buckles under the weight of a pile of sweet and tangy roasted tomatoes. Add to that roughly torn basil and a squeeze of fresh lemon all on a butter toasted piece of country bread. Lunch.

It’s a caprese salad and yet it’s not. The genius behind the addition of avocado to this classic salad is Gaby Dalkins, author of the just released cookbook, Absolutely Avocados. A book devoted entirely to the glorious avocado. Of course there’s guacamole – goat cheese guacamole and spicy sesame guacamole, for example. Then Gaby goes and throws some avocado into her cookies and purees avocado with her hummus. She’s brilliant.

Now, I’m not sure my caprese will ever be without avocado. Or roasted tomatoes for that matter (unless it’s early September in Seattle when the tomatoes just off the vine have the same robust sweetness as those that have bathed in a hot oven for an hour).  And since we’re changing things up quite a bit I’m also fairly certain that all caprese salads around here will be eaten on top of buttery, crisp bread that was rubbed with fresh garlic. Pretty sure I can no longer call it caprese, but I will call it lunch and then I’ll go ahead and call it dinner too.

 

 

 

 

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Roasted Tomato Caprese with Avocado

Roasted Tomato Caprese with Avocado

inspired by Absolutely Avocados by Gaby Dalkins

makes 3 tartines

 

1 large beefsteak tomato or 1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large leaves fresh basil

1 tablespoon butter

3 thick slices of country bread

1 garlic clove

1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced thin

1/2 large burrata ball (mozzarella would work fine here)

1/2 lemon

 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Cut the large tomato in 1/4″ inch slices. Lay on a parchment lined sheet tray and drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with the salt. If you are using the cherry tomatoes, simply toss them with the olive oil and salt and lay them in a single layer on a parchment lined sheet tray.

Roast for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until wilted, wrinkly and deeply caramelized in parts. The cherry tomatoes will sweet and deflate and some of the juices will scorch in places. This is good.

When the tomatoes have roasted, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a large skillet over medium heat add the butter to melt. Place the pieces of bread in the pan and cook until crisp and golden in parts, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Remove the bread from the pan and let cool.

Once cool assemble the tartines. Avocado slices line the bottom, next tear off a piece of the fragile burrata taking care to get parts of the creamy interior. Lick your fingers when no one is looking.

Add a small pile of roasted tomatoes on top. Then finish with some torn leaves of basil and a squeeze of lemon. Feel free to add a nice flaky salt on top too.

 

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Salted Peanut Florentines

I can tell you from experience that these lacy, sweet and salty cookies go quite nicely with hot chocolate on a lazy sick day. Early in the morning we declared it a pajama day at our house and I can think of no better lazy day activity then giving a lesson in Mexican hot chocolate and how to use a molinillo. A certain four year old also got a lesson in the art of chocolate drizzling (can you guess which ones he did?) and we all learned that a 10 am hot chocolate and cookie break is indeed a great way to pass the time.

Of course it’s traditionally almonds in a Florentine but as I was developing this recipe for a class I taught at the Pantry recently a bag of peanuts sat nearby and I thought, “why not?” Where corn syrup usually is I added in maple syrup and I think honey would be lovely here too. It’s a simple cookie that comes together quickly yet tastes of something special. My next move is crumbling up a few and scattering them over vanilla ice cream and while I’m at it I may even pour some of that leftover hot chocolate on top. Oh boy.

 

*One last thing and this is the last time you’ll get this obnoxious update as today (4/19) is the last day to vote: I was nominated for Best Cooking Blog by Saveur.com and I’d love to win. In order to win I need some votes. So if you feel so inclined, please hop over to their site and give a vote. Thanks.
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Salted Peanut Florentines

5 dozen 3 inch cookies, or 2 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies

 

1 3/4 cups roasted peanuts

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 stick (4 ounces) butter

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

flake salt for finishing

Chocolate Topping, optional: 2 to 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Pulse the peanuts in a food processor until finely chopped, but not pasty. Stir together the nuts, flour and salt in a large bowl.

Put the sugar, cream, maple syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into peanut mixture and stir just to combine. Set aside until cool enough to handle, 10 minutes. As the batter sits it will firm up. Once at room temperature you may need to form the batter into a rough ball with your hands.

Scoop rounded teaspoons (for 3-inch cookies) or rounded tablespoons (for 6-inch cookies) of batter and roll into balls. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 3 to 4 inches between each cookie since they spread.

Top with a sprinkle of flakey salt (such as Maldon).

Bake 1 pan at a time, until the cookies are thin and an even golden brown color throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 10 to 11 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve.

Optional chocolate topping: Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with 1 inch or so of water to a very low simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth. (Alternatively, put the chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt at 50 percent power for 30 second intervals in the microwave. Stir, and continue heat until completely melted.)

For sandwiches: Drop about 1/2 teaspoon chocolate onto on the flat side of half of the cookies and press together with remaining halves. Return to rack and let chocolate set.

For chocolate decor: Drizzle melted chocolate over Florentines as desired. Set aside at room temperature until chocolate is set.

Store baked cookies carefully, separated by parchment or waxed paper, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette

 

Before we get any further I wanted to say a couple things. Over the last week or so I found myself sitting at the computer with the intention of responding to your comments from the last post and I couldn’t do it. Everything I tried to write seemed too trite and wasn’t able to capture how grateful, humbled and encouraged I am by your support. I’ll read all of those comments over and over throughout the process when I need a little boost. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

Also, and I can’t even believe that I get to write this, I was nominated for a Saveur award in the Best Cooking Blog category. I’m shocked, happy beyond belief and to be perfectly honest, would love to win. If you have a moment I’d LOVE if you could hop on over to their site and vote. There are so many great blogs in the running. I’m happy to have discovered a few new ones and to be among some great friends. Thanks, again.

_____________

In one of those fits of luck where things align too perfectly for it to be a mere coincidence I find myself listening to Dearie, (Julia Child’s biography) and I’m just at the point where she is deep into writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking while I’m at the beginning of my own recipe testing and development. Her kitchen is littered with stacks of chicken stock splattered pages and she is spending hours a day in the kitchen working tirelessly to get her recipes perfect. I can relate.

As far as things go with my book I feel as if I’m just starting to build momentum and the process seemed that so foreign and daunting just a couple weeks ago is starting to feel doable, possible and even more thrilling than I had anticipated. It’s the sort of thrill that makes my entire body scream in unison, “this is what you are meant to be doing.” In fact that’s exactly what I texted to Gabe while I sat in the quiet of my parent’s house working on some of the narrative for the book. For me it’s more common to say to myself, “What am I doing?!” So I relish that moment when all seems right. I’ve bottled up some of that goodness and am reserving it for when my most harsh critics – the voices in my head – are at their worst.

Let’s get back to Julia – this is what happens when I ramble write, I forget where I was going. Actually to be perfectly honest I’m not sure where I’m going but I do know that I wanted to write something about her process. To learn about others’ process is like peering in through their living room window and at the risk of sounding like some sort of creeper, I love that. I’m fascinated by the process and how others have worked out their own systems in order to create and live out their passion. I’ve learned so much by the vulnerability of others and their willingness to let me peer into the way in which they work and I feel like I’m sitting at Julia’s table watching her work while I’m listening to this 30 hour tome of her life.

She is fastidious, passionate and incredibly focused on creating the best possible recipes for the american home cook. It’s as if Julia sees herself as a missionary with the purpose of sharing the wonders of French food in a way that is approachable and exact. She’s thinking of her reader constantly while revising again and again her method for mayonnaise. When Julia made batch after batch of an oily beurre blanc nantais (a simple sauce of butter, shallots, wine, vinegar and salt and pepper) she set out on a reconnaissance mission to a favorite restaurant that had the sauce perfected. By the end of the evening Julia had charmed her way into the restaurant’s kitchen and watched the sauce being made while she took copious notes for the book.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking took years of hard work, hundreds of pounds of butter and an incredibly supportive husband. But in the end the book is not only highly functional but her passion made it a work of art. I’m humbled by her pursuit to create such a book and find myself in the kitchen with a cake close to perfection but not quite and ask myself, “what would Julia do?”

She’d do it again and so will I.

One can imagine that our need for vegetables is high while our counters are continually littered with cakes, cookies and the random batch of cinnamon rolls I decided to make Sunday afternoon. While it’s easy for me to be okay with variations of a salad for many meals, my children and husband aren’t. So creativity and wooing comes into play. When it comes to food it’s easy to woo with say, chocolate but cauliflower is another thing. That is until you serve a crisp – actually, practically charred, entire head of cauliflower. It’s grand and serves as a blank canvas for those of us who like to improvise and create recipes from little bits of the pantry here and there.

I served whole roasted cauliflower at my birthday dinner this year. I’ve been meaning to tell you more about that night so I’ll save the details except that I wanted those that I was feeding to feel lavished. So there was whole roasted cauliflower (also, homemade sausage and that ice cream cake I already told you about). For the birthday cauliflower there was a simple lemon vinaigrette with capers (fresh and fried) and parsley. This time around I went with sun-dried tomatoes then took it a bit further with feta and mint. Landing a plate on the table with an entire head of cauliflower, crisp, sweet and topped with a vibrant red crown of sun-dried tomato vinaigrette makes one quickly forget that it’s actually cauliflower. I mean until a few years ago I thought cauliflowers greatest achievement was being next to the ranch on a vegetable platter. This is no vegetable platter.

It should also be noted that this simple vinaigrette of only four ingredients is also great with eggs, stirred into pasta and combined with white beans, olive oil, chili flakes, garlic and the pureeing power of a food processor to make a very fine dip of sorts.

 

 

 

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Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

1 whole cauliflower, leaves and tough core removed

 

Drizzle the cauliflower with a bit of olive oil and salt and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a 450 degree F oven for 1 – 1/2 hours until charred in parts and tender throughout. Pierce the cauliflower with a knife to check the tenderness.

 

Meanwhile prepare the vinaigrette.

Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette

I’ve left my vinaigrette be less of a dressing and more of a condiment. If you want it a bit thinner and to dribble down the dimpled florets of the cauliflower just add a bit of water at the end.


1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (about 6 large halves)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

salt

 

Combine everything and adjust the seasoning to your liking. If you want a thinner vinaigrette add a bit of water a tablespoon at a time until thinned.

The cauliflower is a wonderful and impressive side dish on its own with a generous supply of feta and fresh mint or you can serve it with a simple kale risotto as I did. The sun-dried tomato vinaigrette loves this risotto almost as much as cauliflower.

 

Kale Risotto

1 cup water

1 cups chicken stock

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup arborio rice

1 bunch kale, roughly chopped in 1 inch ribbons

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

salt

 

In a small saucepan heat the water and chicken stock to a simmer. Continue to keep it warm while making the risotto. This speeds up the cooking time and makes the rice creamier in the end.

Saute the onions with butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add a large pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) kosher salt to the onions to help them break down and soften. Cook until the onions are tender and cooked through and just starting to turn golden around the edges, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter and onions. Pour in the wine and stir until the wine has been absorbed.

Add 1/2 cup of the warm water and stock mixture. Stir the rice until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue this process until the rice is tender with just a faint bite to it, similar to al dente pasta.

Turn down the heat to low and stir in the kale allowing the residual heat to wilt the greens. Stir in the fresh ground nutmeg. Remove the risotto from the stove, taste and add more salt. I stir in cheese at this point also. If I’m serving this with the cauliflower I add a bit of feta now and then more just before serving. Parmesan, ricotta and/or goat cheese are all good options as well. Consider your cheese choice when salting the risotto.

 

Serve with:

1/2 cup crumbled feta

fresh mint

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Dating My Husband: Celebrating Our Book

We sunk into the couch letting the cushions hug us as we sorted through the day and set out to recover from it. It was pretty typical aside from the Sharpie all over the carpet and the ipad getting peed on, but even typical days need a bit of recovery and a moment to breathe it in and then let it go.

Gabe and I laughed away the day and wondered how one goes about getting pee off of an ipad. We talked about getting new carpet or rearranging the room to cover up our 2 year old’s Sharpie rampage. “Or we could just put a frame over it and call it art.” I said as Gabe went into the kitchen and pulled out two bottles from the fridge.

“Champagne or beer?” He asked.

“Let’s go with beer.” I said, already anticipating the skunky farmhouse ale and knowing that I’d just drink the bottle of champagne with a friend the next night.

Regardless of what had happened earlier in the day, tonight we were celebrating.

And this is where I don’t know how to write this. Which is weird because I’ve been writing this post in my head for over three years and now that it is finally time I’m getting all sweaty, nervous and way too excited to put words to a page. But I’ll try; with a big green bottle of my favorite Saison, a bag of Juanita’s tortilla chips and an ice cream cake waiting for us in the freezer we toasted to our book. The one I’m writing. An actual tangible book that will be held in people’s hands (hopefully all of your hands!), in their kitchen, curled up with them on the couch and in bed. People will be reading my words, cooking from my recipes and drooling over my photos printed on paper. I can’t get over this. It will be published by Running Press and edited by Kristen Green Wiewora who also recently edited, Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie’s Kitchen. Which is stunning, by the way.

A date night seemed the perfect way for us to celebrate because the book is our date nights. It is our story of nourishing our relationship and the food that connects us. I could not to be happier that this is the book I’m writing. It is of course a subject that I’m incredibly passionate about – well, two subjects – my husband and food. This book is an extension of the series I started on this site called, Dating My Husband. These posts are often my favorite to write and always the best to read your comments and emails in response to. How you all have reacted to these posts is a huge reason why I’m writing this book. So many of you have opened yourself up to me telling me about your own struggles in your relationships and have encouraged me by saying how much these date nights have changed your relationships.

Gabe and I have been dating at home for several years now and although at times it’s tough to fight through the exhaustion when all I really want is someone else to cook for me (sometimes there’s takeout date nights and that’s great too) we are so encouraged by what these evenings have meant for our marriage. Over time they’ve gotten easier, we’ve learned to love the comfort of our own home and enjoy the quiet hours in the late evening. I’ve stretched myself in the kitchen, trying new things in order to make these meals feel a bit different from our everyday. Now I find myself longing for our date nights at home, looking forward to them all week and eagerly working on the menu days in advance.

Our book is 25 dates set up seasonally with each having its own menu and a helpful plan to make creating this menu simple, even if you have a full-time job and children underfoot. Each date begins with the story from our date where I open up to you about our marriage – the joys, the trials and the work it takes to make it thrive. It’s an honest look into our marriage of nearly 10 years and how we fumble through life together, with three kids and everything else that’s thrown at us. It’s honest, funny, encouraging, tough and incredibly delicious.

In the moments when I’m telling myself, “I can’t do this! What was I thinking?! ME?! Writing a book? Who’s going to read it? Buy it?” I turn to the table of contents and the food scattered throughout those pages. Just reading the names of the recipes I’m working on makes me incredibly hungry, eager for the recipes myself and assured that this book is going to be so freaking good! Ah! The food is special. It’s a bit grubby delicious in the way that’s not afraid to use cream and butter and yet it’s loaded with vegetables and uses all real ingredients. There’s plenty of salads along with cocktails and desserts.

 

Writing a book has been compared to the process of childbirth and while I can begin to see and understand the truth in that, right now I feel as if I’ve just had the baby. I’m alone at home sitting on the couch with a soft skinned baby relying on me for food, comfort, love and guidance. Even though I’ve read through stacks of parenting books and tried my best to observe and question seasoned parents suddenly I feel at a complete loss of what to do with this little life. And so now I’m sitting here, on the couch again, with a blank computer screen seeking to put words to paper trying to make this book the one of my dreams, the one I want to add to my own cookbook collection and the one you all will eagerly cook from. It feels awkward, thrilling and unbelievable.

I’ve been that awkward new mom with three babies and we’ve figured it out. We’re still figuring it out but the point is we’re doing it. And that’s just how this book will be. Bird by Bird, recipe by recipe, date by date. And around Valentine’s Day 2015 I’ll get to share this baby with the rest of the world. I can not wait for you to meet my book. In the meantime I’ll be here sharing recipes here as I always have. There will be more dates – different than the ones going in the book and there will be glimpses into this new world of writing a book as I’m fumbling through this process, figuring it out and fighting the doubt and celebrating the triumph. After all, this book will exist in great part because of you all, it seems appropriate then that you’d journey with me through it all.

Let’s do this.

A very hearty thank you to my agent Stacey Glick. Thank you for holding my hand, acting as counselor and already pushing this book to be bigger, greater and everything I want it to be.

 

 

 

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Ice Cream Cake with Candied Cocoa Nibs

It’s okay to admit that Dairy Queen is the inspiration for this dessert right? Their ice cream cakes remain to be one of my favorite desserts. I love it for its absence of cake, for the chewy hot fudge and crispy chocolate wafers in-between layers of creamy ice cream and as a kid I loved the magical printed images on the top (okay, I might still love that)  There’s nothing better – that is until I decided to make my own. I stopped shy of making my own ice cream, for that I used D’Ambrosia Gelato in Seattle (the best!). You can use 2 quarts of your favorite ice cream. 

It is definitely a cake worthy of a celebration. 

For the cake you’ll need the following recipes plus:

 

2 quarts ice cream (two flavors is ideal)

1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

 

Chocolate Wafers

adapted from Alice Medrich

Of course one doesn’t need to bake their own chocolate wafers but there is something so satisfying as creaming butter and mixing in a few ingredients in your own kitchen only to come up with a flavor so reminiscent of childhood you’ll be reaching for a glass of milk and fighting the desire to lick the hydrogenated creamy center that’s not there. 

The ice cream cake only requires the use of half of the cookies I usually bake them all but if you’d rather you can freeze half of the dough for a later use. 

 

1 cup flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons butter, soft

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons milk

 

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set that aside while you cream the butter and sugars together until light, about 4 minutes on medium speed or a couple more minutes more if you are mixing the dough by hand. Add the vanilla extract and milk to the creamed butter and sugars.

Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Gather the wet dough and place on a piece of parchment paper. Roll the parchment paper up and work the dough into a rough 2” log. If you are using these cookies for the ice cream cake the shape really doesn’t matter as they are destined for crumbs but if you’d like to create a uniform log for perfectly formed round cookies refrigerate the dough for 10 minutes then reform the log and squeeze the ends to compress the dough into a perfect round. Continue this process until the log is uniform. If the shape isn’t a concern just chill until firm. About 45 minutes in the fridge or 20 minutes in the freezer.

Slice the roll of cookie dough into 1/4” discs and bake at 350*F for 12-15 minutes. You want them to be quite dry so they’ll hold their crunch when surrounded by ice cream. I fit the entire batch on two baking sheets, bake for 12 minutes then turn off the oven and leave the trays in for an additional 5 minutes. Just watch and smell them closely as you don’t want them to burn.

Let the cookies cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Gather half of the cookies into a large ziplock bag and break up into small pieces.

Hot Fudge

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

If you have it use Lyle’s golden syrup here. It’s deeper in color and adds a lovely subtle caramel flavor to the hot fudge. That combined with a bit of salt, bittersweet chocolate and coffee this rich hot fudge attempts to play the starring role in this cake. 

 

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup golden syrup (or corn syrup)

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped or use chips

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

 

In a sauce pan combine the cream, syrup sugar and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and then let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Once the chocolate and the butter have melted strain the entire mixture to ensure no pesky cocoa powder clumps remain.

Let cool to room temperature before assembling the cake. If you are making this in advance, refrigerate until ready to use then gently reheat on the stove or in a microwave until the hot fudge is pourable.

Will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.

 

 

Candied Cocoa Nibs

“I wonder if you can candy cocoa nibs?” I recently asked a friend and then the rest was history. It turns out you can and you really should. With sugar and heat these bittersweet little crunchy chocolate bites turn into caramel-y, lightly sweetened, bittersweet chocolate bites. If you want more of a brittle texture add more sugar. I prefer to have the nibs just barely coated in caramel as I love the bitter, almost savory flavor they bring to the cake.

 

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup cocoa nibs

course salt (like Maldon)

 

In a small, clean pan pour the sugar in an even layer across the bottom. Over medium-high heat melt the sugar, rotating the pan and gently stirring if the sugar is caramelizing unevenly. Once all is melted and the sugar is amber in color turn off the heat and immediately stir in the nibs.

Coat the cocoa nibs in the sugar then place on a parchment lined sheet tray, sprinkle a bit of salt on top.

Let the nibs cool completely then break into pieces.

 

Assembling the cake:

 

Line the bottom of a 8 or 9” springform pan with parchment paper (you only need the parchment paper if you are planning on removing the bottom of the springform pan, otherwise you can skip this step and serve it right on the base of the pan).

Add the first quart of softened ice cream to the bottom. Spread evenly with an off-set spatula.

Top that layer with half of the hot fudge and cookie crumbs.

Place the pan into the freezer for at least 30 minutes to set up.

Remove the pan from the freezer and add the second quart of softened ice cream over the cookie crumbs.

Top the ice cream with the remaining hot fudge.

Put the cake back into the freezer until you are ready to serve.

Un-mold the cake, taking off the base of the springform pan and parchment if you used it.

Top the cake with the whipped cream and candied cocoa nibs.

Serve immediately.

Keeps in the freezer for 1 week, although the cream on top turns icy but really no one complains about it.

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Fattoush

It’s time for me to rediscover my love of salad. It is definitely not a hard relationship to rekindle but I’ve somehow lost sight of it’s flare as I’ve been distracted by cocktails, making homemade sausage, cheese-laden pastas and hearty roasts. But this week Gabe went ahead and said it, “We need to eat healthier.” Gah. Of course he was totally right but I wasn’t ready to admit it publicly.

Our eating habits go through fits and spurts with some seasons having more green on our plates but then there are the weeks of traveling, busy schedules and exhaustion that keep us from wiping the dust off the juicer or reaching into the crisper where the vegetables have since withered and died. The unhealthy streak putters on until one of us cries uncle and declares a change. And that’s when I rediscover salad and fall madly in love with it’s creativity, color and diversity again.

This time I’m starting with Fattoush. Mostly because I love to say the word, “Fattoush” but also because we’ve been on the sort of Mediterranean kick where mint, lemon and greek yogurt are key players. Fattoush is essentially a chopped salad with endless variations. It’s the sort of salad where I imagine every grandma in Arabic countries has their own recipe and deems it, “the best”.

Now I have my own version which is based off of the one found in the book, Jerusalem. I reach for this book often when I’m looking to get out of a certain cooking rut and enter into a world of foreign spices, creative recipes and gorgeous images of countries I long to visit. The Fattoush instantly caught my eye as I stared at the vibrant ingredients and it had those three ingredients – lemon, mint and greek yogurt – that I just can’t resist.

Essentially Fattoush is a bread salad. Stale or crisped naan (or pita) is mixed with a variety of chopped vegetables, handfuls of herbs and a light dressing of yogurt, lemon juice, a bit of oil and sumac. Sumac is the ground fruit of a Sumac tree. It’s tart and almost lemon-like in flavor with a stunning reddish purple hue. You can find it online or at spice shops. If you simply can’t find it you can use more lemon juice and a bit of zest in its place although I do recommend you seek it out.

This is the sort of salad that makes eating healthy seem incredibly easy and exciting. The bright bite of the herbs excite in a way that heavy foods just can’t and yet you feel sort of indulgent as the yogurt creates a rich and creamy dressing. It’s the perfect salad to lead us back into healthier eating, that is, until I decide to make another batch of cookies. As Julia Child says, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

 

 

 

*I realize last week I teased you with bacon and now you come here and I’m talking about salad?! I’m terrible. But I promise, bacon is coming. Eat some salad first in preparation.

 

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Fattoush

serves 6

 

4 cups torn naan or pita

1 cup Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sumac

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

3 large tomatoes, chopped

1 cup thinly sliced fresh radishes

1 cucumber peeled and chopped

2 green onions, sliced

1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh torn mint

 

In a skillet with a bit of olive oil or in a oven, crisp the pieces of naan or pita until golden and crisp on the outside dried throughout. You could also just use very stale bread.

Mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and sumac in a bowl.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss with the yogurt dressing finish with more sumac if you’d like.

For a heartier meal serve with grilled chicken, steak or an oily fish.

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Turntable Kitchen Pairings Box Giveaway

*Thanks to the Random Number Generator we have a winner!! Brandon, from Kitchen Konfidence – CONGRATULATIONS! Thank you so much for all of you who entered. It was so fun to hear from so many of you!

Every time I hear the rumble of a truck roll down our street my heart jumps in my chest. Sometimes it’s the garbage man and that’s just not really that exciting. But there are times when it’s FedEx truck delivering a package. Those are my favorite times. Sort of like a whisper of Christmas even though it’s something I may have ordered for myself and it’s no surprise what’s inside. It rarely matters much what it is I just love getting packages in the mail. Although if the package comes with some nice tunes, three beautiful recipe cards and a fun ingredient to play with in the kitchen – well, then that’s just about the best package I can imagine.

Every month Turntable Kitchen does just that. They turn out stunning little packages and ship them off all over so every one can have their heart jump a little when the delivery guy knocks at the door. It’s a Pairings Box and this month I got the privilege of selecting a special ingredient (one of my current favorites) and creating three recipes to highlight said ingredient. It’s all hush hush, which makes the arrival of the little brown box that much more exciting.

I’m super excited to be able to give one of you the Pairings Box for April. If you’re interested in winning April’s box with my recipes just leave a comment below. I’ll select a winner this weekend.

In the meantime check out Turntable Kitchen (to swoon at that sweet little baby girl!!) and their Pairings Boxes.

I’ll be back soon with recipes, a video and bacon. It’s a great week here.

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Lemon Curd with Fresh Berries, Mint and Cream

I knew it had to be lemon curd. Usually I’m not this passionate about the sweet and tart, pudding-like dessert but with that lemon tree right outside the window (the same one of the Whiskey Sour fame) it was practically taunting me. With branches bending under the weight of the fruit and large vibrant leaves shining in the sun I swear I heard all the lemons say, “Use me, use me while you can. They don’t grow them like us in Seattle.” You’re right, lemons, they don’t but have you seen our rhubarb (it’s coming!)?

While I had the lemons and strawberries that flooded the rows of the farmers market with their floral scent, I was without a bain marie or any sort of bowl and pot situation that would make a suitable replacement. But I couldn’t let the lemons continue their taunting any longer and I already had the taste of tart curd alongside a fresh berry salad with mint and vanilla scented whipped cream. And once you get that idea inside your head there’s no telling what you would do to make it a reality. Like say, create a “bain marie” out of a frying pan and an oversized metal bowl. I did what I had to do.

Technically the bowl isn’t supposed to touch the bottom of the pan but it did. The curd survived – actually it did more than survive, it sang. I even attempted to strain it through a tiny tea strainer but I gave up and came to terms with the possibility that this batch might not be up to my usual standard of perfect, uninterrupted smoothness.

When I teach people how to cook and bake I show them the techniques I’ve learned while working in professional kitchens and cooking at home. Trying as best I can to get them as excited as I get when I see a beautiful brunoise or even layers of butter spread thin throughout a batch of puff pastry. I teach them how to make lemon curd using a legitimate bain marie. But more than that I try to teach them to be fearless in the kitchen. To be a bit of a rebel – bend the rules, try something new, to use their instincts and be resourceful. And most importantly, to not be afraid of making mistakes because they will happen. And you know what, I do a terrible job of telling you all about my mistakes. I mean they aren’t pretty and they show my insecurities so I’m not usually inclined to run here and share them but they happen, a lot and I should tell you about them because the beauty of mistakes is that if you push through the fear and doubt you’ll usually find something better than what you originally set for. Or you’ll have a soggy cake that you need to throw out but even with that you tried and learned and you’ll move on.

So if a recipe says use a bain marie and to be be sure the bowl doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as the recipe below says, then do it but if you don’t have a bain marie then keep on going because the lemon curd is worth it and the rules don’t mind a little stretching every now and again.

 

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Lemon Curd with Berries and Mint

adapted from epicurious.com

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter

Whisk the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, and yolks in medium metal bowl. Set the bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water – or just do the best you can). Whisk constantly until thickened like a warm pudding, about 10 minutes. Remove bowl from over the water. Add butter, salt and vanilla; whisk until melted and combined. At this point I like to strain the curd to make sure no little bits of cooked eggs hinder the smooth texture. It is however, an optional step. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd. Chill. Will keep, refrigerated, for one week.

I served the lemon curd with fresh berries that were tossed with just a bit of raw sugar (less refined, more coarse) and mint leaves. The whipped cream was flavored with just a touch of vanilla extract.

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Thai Beef Salad

When people ask, or even when they don’t I often describe parenting as a roller coaster although I really hate how cliche that sounds. And yet, I can’t think of a better way to describe the highs and lows, dips and dives, elatement and nausea that happens in a single day when you are left to guide and shape the life of a little being or beings.

Let me give you a few examples from my day. Warning: four-year-old humor is involved. Proceed at your own risk.

In the car, where my patience is the most tried, my children sound like the shattering of a thousand plates of fine china. One is touching the other which is apparently worse than death, while the other one just dropped his lego into the deep crevices of the car and expects me to turn around and grab it while I’m driving. The cries from the back increase as I threaten to, “pull this car over”. Languishing both over the fact that I sound like a parent and that I have no idea what I would do if I really did pull the car over I decide to join them in their screams, “No more talking! Ever.”

Now I’m frustrated that I didn’t handle the situation as a mature and controlled parent would and that they didn’t listen to my pleading. While I’m lamenting my behavior I’m stunned by the sudden silence. I glance in the rear view mirror. With contorted necks and gaping mouths they are asleep and I swear I can see a ridge of light around their heads forming a brilliant halo. The last few moments of screams are instantly forgotten as my heart and every other part of me swells with love for these little people to the point where I feel as if I might just burst.

At home and well recovered from the car ride I settle on the couch with my four-year-old as we bond over classic Spiderman cartoons. As Spidey is flinging his webs from his fingers, Roman looks at me and says, “God made you beautiful.” I sit in stunned silence and just start to wipe a tear from my sleep-craved eyes when he finishes his sentence with, “I’m farting.”

At its peaks it is the best “job” in the world. I sit in stunned gratitude that I get the joy of parenting these three who I feel are the coolest people on the planet. And then there are the times when I wish it was an actual job so I could quit or at the very least, take a sick day.

Dinner time is another wild ride. Sometimes I spend the afternoon in the kitchen slowly simmering sauces and caramelizing onions to the point of uncommon sweetness. The herbs are picked from our garden and the bread slowly risen in the fridge overnight. I proudly display my dinner on the table, like my 2 year old and her scribbled drawings, only to be met with grimaces and the immediate separating of dinner into what can and what can’t be eaten categories.

Then there are the times when I bring dinner to the table ready for the assault of moans, grumbling and slouched disgusted bodies as the meal has all the signs of usual disapproval; lots of green, exotic seasonings and no pasta with cheese. So when I see clean plates and hear, “It’s delicious!” it’s enough to sustain me through some of the more common grimaces and groans. They happily devour the sweet and spicy grilled beef fleck with fresh mint and cilantro. Baron, after one bite of thinly sliced cucumber proclaims, “cucumber is my favorite.” I’m in shock as last week it was the worst. As I listen to all this I too clean my plate and marvel at the moment of a meal appreciated.

Until I can think of another visual that better illustrates the range of emotions I see and feel in one day, I think I’ll stick with a roller coaster. I’ve come to realize that while the dips are hard, emotional and trying to the point where I think I can’t handle anything else it’s then when a peak begins and I find again, the joy of the ride.

 

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Thai Beef Salad

Serves 4 to 6
After a stint with a nasty sickness that invaded our house and roughed us all up pretty good I needed to feed my family something hearty and nutritious to make up for the endless days of soda crackers we had become accustomed to. 
I turned this Cooks Illustrated version into more of a salad than is classically called for. I upped the dressing ingredients so there would be enough to coat the pile of lettuce I ate this with. While I adore Cooks Illustrated sometimes I find their recipes a bit fastidious with more steps than I have time or patience for but I’ll tell you about them in case you want to add them into your process. First of all they toast the ground spices so the paprika is a bit more smokey and the cayenne has packs more punch. The other thing they do is toast 2 tablespoons uncooked basmati rice in a dry skillet until golden. Once cooled the rice is then ground and added as a garnish and along with the cooked and seasoned meat. If you have the time or patience this step really does add a lovely crunch and deep flavor but it’s fine without it. I also left out the chile for the sake of the kidlets.
One more thing to point out before you begin: here the meat is not pre-seasoned but rather tossed with the fragrant sweet and sour dressing. For those of you who don’t often pre-plan dinner, such as myself, this means dinner is ready in under 20 minutes. I love that.

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3-4 tablespoons lime juice (according to preference)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
¾ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and pepper, coarsely ground
3 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds (omit if you don’t want it too spicy)
1 seedless English cucumber, thinly sliced or peeled with a potato peeler
3-4 cups greens (I used a red leaf lettuce but I imagine nearly anything would be great)

Combine the cayenne and paprika together in a small bowl.

Whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside. This dressing will taste strong but remember it’s the flavor for the meat and the lettuce.

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill or grill pan and cook until it’s beginning to char, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder (if using); toss to combine.

Add a bit (save the rest of the dressing for another time) of the dressing to a bowl with the greens. Place some dressed greens on the plate then finish with some of the cucumber and slices of meat.

Serve with the remaining paprika mixture so your diners could add more spice if needed. Also, if you’ve taken the time to make the toasted rice powder serve that on the side as well.

 

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Citrus Cocktails

We’re nearing the end of our time in California but before we left I had to share with you a bit of the citrus-inspired cocktails we’ve been sipping while here.

First there’s the perfected Whiskey Sour that my dad has been working on ever since they came to Palm Desert and became the proud owners of a booming lemon tree. The branches hang heavy with large fruit so, in order to ease their load, I pluck the biggest lemons and walk a few feet from the trunk into the kitchen. One of these lemons provides more than enough juice for one Sour. This classic cocktail goes down easy when mixed with smokey whiskey and a bit of simple syrup.

The next cocktail comes from the grapefruit tree resting comfortably in between the neighbor’s house and my parent’s. Being from Washington I’m used to seeing trees loaded with apples but for me citrus is only available in the grocery store. I will buy the little oranges with their leaves still attached just to feel more connected to its origin. Now I find myself contemplating leaving my clothes and stuffing my suitcase with all the citrus I’ve picked. The first to get tucked into the case would be the grapefruit. I had little hope for them as I reached to grab one from the tree and felt a tough skin with little give. But as I cut into the bright yellow exterior the inside glowed a soft pink, the juice ran freely and the sweetness overwhelmed. I take it as a sign that I’ve reached adulthood now that I now longer take my grapefruit with sugar covering its entire surface. Or maybe I just needed to have great grapefruit. My next thought was tequila and then the grapefruit margarita was born.

In two short days we’ll be back to the rain and cold and back to driving to the store for my citrus fix but I think I’ve consumed enough vitamin C (and tequila) to keep me satisfied for quite some time.

 

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Whiskey Sour and Grapefruit Margarita

This is the recipe my dad came up with after trying many variations. He doesn’t use the best whiskey, the sugar in his simple syrup isn’t fully dissolved and he rarely measures and yet, it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve had. Nice work, dad. 

1 part whiskey

1 part simple syrup

1/2 part fresh lemon juice

 

Combine this all in a martini glass with crushed ice. Garnish with sliced lemon or a twirl of the peel.

My dad thinks they are best served with a good cigar (or a cheap one, he adds).

 

Grapefruit Margarita

1 part grapefruit juice

1 part tequila

1/2 part Cointreau

 

Salt the rim of a margarita glass and add the ingredients. Stir and then add ice. Garnish with a thin slice of grapefruit.

 

 

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Dating My Husband: Dessert Picnic

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.”

- Alfred Tennyson

And in this garden of mine we would picnic everyday, as we did the other night. There would always be stiff Manhattans in the flask, sweet strawberry cupcakes in hand and rich chocolate pudding capped with bourbon whipped cream.

You’d pick me a flower just as two more would pop up next to us.

I could live in this ever-growing garden always, as long as you were there with me.

 

Strawberry Cupcakes // Chocolate Pudding

Strawberry Cupcakes
adapted from Look, I made that
makes 16-18 cupcakes

Strawberries are definitely not in season here and yet I needed these cupcakes. I imagine the flavor to be much more strawberry-like if the berries are used were ruby red throughout. I’ll try again in June. But regardless we ate them happily. These we topped with brown sugar buttercream and while delicious we decided that lightly sweetened whipped cream and sliced berry on top would have been wonderful too.

2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tea vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature, beaten
1 cup pureed strawberries
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 tea rose water (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake pans with cupcake papers.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In another medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract. Set aside.
Combine the vanilla seeds (if using), sugar and butter and beat until well combined. Add the eggs in a slow stream, beating well after each addition. Beat for 1 minute at medium speed. Gradually add the buttermilk mixture and beat for 1 minute at medium speed.
Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in the pureed strawberries and the orange zest.
Spoon into the prepared cake pans and bake until the cupcakes spring back when touched lightly in the center, about 20-25 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from the pan.
Cool completely before frosting.

Brown Sugar Buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, whisk together egg whites, sugar, and salt.

Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.

Transfer to the clean bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until fluffy and cooled, about 15 minutes.

Raise speed to high; beat until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, until fully incorporated. Add vanilla and whisk to combine.

Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 6
This really is the perfect classic pudding. The creamy texture is reminiscent of the boxed variety I remember and crave. And really, it’s no more difficult to make. Unless you use the instant pack – that’s way too easy and a little odd how it firms up so quickly. 
I used dark brown sugar instead of the white which added more richness and depth to the pudding but I imagine white is the more classic choice. I’ll leave it up to your pudding discretion.

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar (see note)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups whole milk
7 ounces chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60% chips)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt. Whisk well to remove any lumps.
In a large saucepan bring the milk to a boil to a simmer. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and whisk together for one minute, or until thick. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and everything is well combined.
Transfer the pudding to a bowl, or individual bowls, and place wax paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
Refrigerated until cold and set.

Bourbon Whipped Cream

There’s no recipe except to add as much bourbon as you think necessary to a bit of whipped cream. I added nearly 2 tablespoons to about 1 1/2 cups of already whipped cream.

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Pressure Cooking: French Pork Stew with White Beans


America’s Test Kitchen sent me the FAGOR Duo Stainless Steel 8-Quart Pressure Cooker
to experiment with in preparation for their forthcoming book, “Pressure Cooker Perfection
(available to pre-order now, released in March). What you are about to read is my experience with the pressure cooker using one of the recipes from the new book. I was not harmed, nor was anyone else, well, except for the pork used in the recipe. But I assure you it was well loved.

When my boys have to venture somewhere a bit scary; whether it’s the garage, upstairs when the lights are off or a new friend’s house, they like to travel as the pair. Even at a young age they know that there is safety in numbers, so I’m taking their cue and asking you to be with me as I do something that I find a bit scary – use a pressure cooker.

At this point I know nothing of pressure cooking except that it uses pressure to cook which somehow makes the process faster and that I’ve seen a couple of them bubble, spurt and explode. It may have been on cartoons where I saw this but it still has made me feel anxious about the idea. But you’re here and I’m under the highly respectable guidance of the fine people at America’s Test Kitchen. So, I’m feeling okay and yet I have the odd desire to don some goggles and a helmet.

It’s unlike me to start with reading through directions in their entirety but in this case I think it best. Immediately there’s a bit of relief as I read, “Why you should own a pressure cooker” from the forthcoming book by America’s Test Kitchen. The number two reason says,

“They’re safe: You’ve heard the old stories about exploding pressure cookers and meals that ended up on the ceiling instead of the dinner plates. But that was yesterday. If too much pressure builds up in one of today’s pressure cookers, there are multiple safety features that allow that excess pressure to escape safely – and without creating a mess.”

I already feel better. A few of the other reasons; it’s fast, more concentrated flavors and it is economical as it requires less energy and you can really utilize the tough cuts of meat and dried beans which are often quite a bit cheaper.

All right, I’m cooking now. I read MOST of the instructions and I think it’s safe to proceed. I just put the lid on and have not taken my eyes off of it as I’m waiting for the pressure valve to lift its head to tell me that high pressure has been reach. At that point I reduce the heat and let it cook for 30 minutes. Wait a minute. Have I even told you what you are cooking with me? We are making a French Pork Stew using 3 pounds of pork butt and dried beans (soaked overnight) and they tell me it will be done in 45 minutes. Can you read my skepticism?

Did you hear that? Is it suppose to hiss like that? “Kids, get OUT of the kitchen!”

Little drops of condensation fall from the black handle. Everything this pot does; steam escaping from the sides or the loud hissing sound that continues – I question.

Ten minutes of cooking time left.

If at the end of all of this we have a stew that is flavorful with tender chunks of pork, soft and fragrant beans then I feel I’ve unleashed a weeknight hero. Suddenly Monday through Friday nights are filled with possibility. A large roast on Tuesday? Tender beets and potatoes on Thursday cooked in under 20 minutes? Friday night Risotto without all the stirring? If this is the case then all my nervousness, anxiety over steam and hissing would be worth it for meals that taste as if I’ve actually planned dinner well in advance.

There’s a lot of pressure all around. Except for Ivy. She’s calmly sitting next to me consulting with Elmo who also doesn’t seemed to be phased by the steam engine-like sound coming from the kitchen.

Three minutes left.

The pressure is off! Well, almost. I just turned off the heat and for the next 15 minutes the pressure that has built up is slowly being released naturally.

My house smells better than expensive French perfume. It’s meaty and bright with white wine. Fragrant wafts of lavender and rosemary escaped through some of the steam and have me reaching for a glass of wine. It’s not too early, right?

Fifteen minutes have now passed and the pressure valve still shows high pressure so with shaky hand I slide the black knob on top to the picture of a steam cloud. An appropriate image as once the pressure has been released steam pours out as if it were an active volcano. It shoots safely behind the pot.

The volcano has stopped. The valve is now lowered telling me that the pressure is off. Along with the steam more fragrance fills the air and my stomach moans in anticipation. For a mere 45 minutes I eagerly waited to taste and now is when I wish you REALLY were here with me because, you guys, it’s amazing. Even better than I had hoped. It doesn’t just taste as if its been on the stove for hours, it tastes as it it was on the stove for hours the day before because we all know stews are better the day after. The carrots taste sweeter, the meat is incredibly tender and the broth is thick and rich. It’s a quick weeknight meal that tastes good enough for Sunday dinner.

And just like that I’m a believer. Turns out all the hissing and steam – perfectly normal. Oh pressure cooker, I’m really sorry I ever doubted you and spent all those wasted years being afraid of you. I blame cartoons.


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French Pork Stew with White Beans

Rustic French Pork and White Bean Stew

This recipe comes right from the new book. Being a bit nervous about the whole thing I stuck to the recipe pretty much exactly except for the addition of some Juniper berries and I added 2 teaspoons of herbes de provence rather than the 1 1/2 teaspoons they suggest.

SERVES:

6

PRESSURE LEVEL:

HIGH

 

TOTAL TIME:

ABOUT 1 1/2 HOURS (plus bean soaking time)

 

RELEASE:

NATURAL

 

30 MINUTES

UNDER PRESSURE

 

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

This French-inspired dish, with chunks of pork, creamy white beans, fennel, and carrots, tastes like it simmered all day, yet the pressure cooker makes it doable on a weeknight—even with dried beans in the mix.To keep the cooking time down, we browned only half the meat and still built enough flavorful fond on the bottom of the pot to season the stew.We continued to build a base with sautéed onion, garlic, and herbes de Provence before deglaz- ing the pot with white wine.To ensure each component cooked through evenly, we cut the carrots and fennel into large 1-inch pieces and salt-soaked the beans. Once everything was tender, parsley and lemon juice went in to brighten the flavors. Pork butt roast is often labeled Boston butt in the supermarket.

 

INGREDIENTS

3 pounds boneless pork butt roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped

1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces

8 garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ teaspoons Herbes de Provence

1 pound carrots, cut in 1” chunks

⅓ cup flour

1 cup white wine

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

8 ounces (11⁄4 cups) dried cannellini beans, picked over, rinsed, and salt-soaked (soaked overnight in salted water)

2 bay leaves

1⁄4 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra as needed

 

1. BUILD FLAVOR: Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in pressure-cooker pot over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of meat on all sides, about 8 minutes; transfer to bowl.

 

2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in gar- lic and herbes de Provence and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.Whisk in wine, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps, and cook until slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, carrots, fennel, soaked beans, bay leaves, browned pork with any accumulated juices, and remaining pork.

 

3. HIGH PRESSURE FOR 30 MINUTES:

Lock pressure-cooker lid in place and bring to high pressure over medium-high heat.As soon as pot reaches high pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain high pressure.

 

4. NATURALLY RELEASE PRESSURE:

Remove pot from heat and allow pressure to release naturally for 15 minutes. Quick release any remaining pressure, then carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.

 

5. BEFORE SERVING: Remove bay leaves. Using large spoon, skim excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in parsley and lemon juice and season with salt, pepper, and extra lemon juice to taste. Serve.

 

TROUBLESHOOTING

Can I substitute canned beans for the dried?

Can I use chicken instead of pork?

Do I need to alter the recipe for a 6-quart electric pressure cooker?

Yes, although the final stew will not be as thick since the dried beans soak up some of the liquid, and we also found the flavor wasn’t as developed. Before adding the parsley and lemon juice in step 5, stir 2 (15-ounce) cans of rinsed cannellini beans into the stew and simmer until the beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Boneless chicken thighs would work fine, although we found they release more juices than the pork and thus create a looser stew. Substitute an equal amount of boneless thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces, for the pork butt and reduce the pressurized cooking time to 20 minutes.

Yes, turn the cooker off immediately after the pressurized cooking time and let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes; do not let the cooker switch to the warm setting.

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Butterscotch Pudding with Roasted Banana Whipped Cream

It was just about a year ago when I had the butterscotch budino (an Italian baked custard) at Delancey. Sitting on top of its perfectly smooth camel colored cap was a pile of billowy cream with streaks of roasted banana throughout. I’ve always been a fan of pudding and its not-so distant cousins; panna cotta, pot de creme, budino, etc. so it was not too surprising that I enjoyed this dessert. What was surprising was the extent to which I enjoyed it. It was intended to be shared but I did not. Every little streak of creamy pudding that hid in the corners of the shallow jar it was served in became mine. I staked my claim after the first bitter, sweet and a bit salty taste. It reminded me of Nips, those candies that were tucked deep inside Grandma’s purse when I was a young girl. She would pull out one of the gold wrapped oval candies with their circular indentation in the middle and pass one down the pew to me during church. The nearly impossible task of unfolding the foil lined wrapper while not disrupting the service was a worthy price to pay for that sweet, toffee-like candy.

The whipped cream on top obliterated my firm prior conviction that cooked bananas tasted of cardboard mush. I happily humbled myself with mouthfuls of the roasted banana cream, accepting that bananas cooked in butter and brown sugar are quite fine indeed.

A year or maybe even two years later on a gray and drizzling January day the sudden urge for those flavors struck intensely. In my home version I opted for a simple butterscotch pudding omitting the need for an oven and the sometimes frightful water bath. I went back to my banana souflee making days at Spago while I briefly sauteed the bananas in butter and melted brown sugar. Just as the bananas started to take on a deep amber coat I splashed them with a bit of rum. Once cool I purreed the bananas then folded the sweet and very unlike cardboard mush mixture into whipped cream and placed a very generous amount on top of the creamy, sweet and that wonderfully familiar toffee flavored pudding.
This time I shared. Some.

 

 



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Butterscotch Pudding with Roasted Banana Whipped Cream

Butterscotch Pudding
adapted from Gourmet 2009
makes 4 servings

This is an incredibly rich, sweet and pleasantly salted pudding. A few bites was sufficient for me (and then a few bites more every day for the next week). If you’d like less sweetness you can cut the sugar down to ½ cup.

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ t kosher or flaky sea salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan, then whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently. Continue to whisk for 1 minute then remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla. Pour into a bowl, then cover surface with wax paper or plastic wrap. Chill until cold, at least 1 1/2 hours.

 

Roasted Banana Whipped Cream

2 ripe bananas, cut in 1” chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Rum

2 cups softly whipped cream

In a large saucepan over medium high heat add the butter and brown sugar. Continually stir the sugar taking care so that it doesn’t scorch. Cook until the butter and sugar has melted together. Add the bananas and quickly cook for just about 1 minute. You want the edges to caramelize and coat in the sugar but you don’t want them to get too soft. Turn off the heat and carefully add the rum. Stir everything together and set this aside to cool.
Once cool puree the bananas in a food processor.

Add some of the banana mixture to the whipped cream and whisk to combine. This is done to taste. I added about half of the bananas but you can do more or less.

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Melted Leeks and Ricotta Tartine

Could it be that there is actually something good to be said of fear? It turns out that the emotion that I’ve dreaded and relegated to being “wrong” and “unhealthy” might possible be an indicator of exactly what I should be doing.

Let me back up for a moment. This past week I read, or listened to (audiobooks are the book-loving busy mom’s dream), the book, “The War of Art
by Steven Pressfield. In it he basically gives us creatives, who tend to drag our feet in the mud, a swift, yet encouraging kick in the backside. A kick that puts us at our chairs where we must sit and actually do the work. But the work is hard and is surrounded by fear.

In this book, Pressfield asks, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

I make excuses all the time for why I can’t sit and write everyday, for why I shouldn’t pick up my pencil and sketch. As those excuses crumble the roots are exposed and fear is revealed. So yes, I am paralyzed with fear and apparently that’s good. This understanding is helping me not to fear the fear, makes me not feel incompetent for feeling it but rather turns it into a motivator.

I am plagued with fear around writing, succeeding and acting out the goals I’ve made. If fear surrounds what our calling is then it is now the fear that motivates me to just keep at it. Much of the time I question my direction, wondering if these things I fear are really even worth time pursuing but now I see, yes it’s worth it to fight through the fear as fear itself is the indicator that I’m on the right path.

The more I think about it I realize it’s not just in our work where this is true. Let’s be honest, being a mom is terrifying. These little people depend on me for so much. I do what I can to love them well but everyday (many times a day) I’m faced with my own fallibility and I let them down. And I will continue to do so because I’m human and imperfect and so are they. Because there is fear there doesn’t mean I shy away from the task. The fear reveals my love, passion and desire to mother them well.

This isn’t exactly where I intended this post to go. I’m here to talk about ricotta but actually fear isn’t that far off. Seeing recipes for homemade ricotta I envied the results but the process scared me. The heating, curdling then cheesecloth-using put me off for a time until I decided to face the fear of the thermometer (which it turns out you don’t even need) and try making my own. I did and now have done so dozens of times.

When Summer was in its prime along with red tomatoes heavy with juice and peaches so sweet you could smell their perfume before they were in sight, I was making fresh ricotta weekly. We’d make meals of it with bread and just sliced produce. And now that I’ve been making bread with a light and bubbled interior and a crisp, deeply golden exterior nearly daily, the ricotta has returned.


Sitting next to me as I type this are the few remains of lunch: two thick slices of bread baked last night with more than a smear but less than a dollop (although not much less) of ricotta, a bit of olive oil and flakes of crunchy sea salt scattered on top. Last week there were warm and buttery melted leeks resting on the ricotta. A few chile flakes gave a bit of heat to the simple tartine and the bread was crisped in the pan with olive oil.

One thing I have learned about fear is that the completed action that was once cloaked in it is so much more satisfying when conquered. Each batch of fresh ricotta is a reminder of a fear smashed, smothered and beaten up. And each time I sit down to write – be it 5 minutes of pure scribbles and mumblings that will never be seen – I become a bit more brave and sure that yes, this is exactly what I am to supposed to be doing.

 

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Melted Leeks and Ricotta Tartine

Melted Leek and Ricotta Tartine
With such a basic recipe as this one adaptations are welcomed and encouraged. Replace the leeks with fennel, greens, carrots or tomatoes. Add fresh herbs, spices or bits of bacon. Of course as is this tartine, splendid in its simplicity, made for a lovely lunch.

Homemade Ricotta

adapted from Ina Garten

I’ve been making ricotta for quite awhile now and have played around with the combination of milk and cream. It can be done with all milk but as you can imagine, cream makes it better. Ina goes as far as to add 2 cups of cream to 4 cups of whole milk and she’s got a good thing going. If I’m feeling rather indulgent that’s the version I use. But now it’s a weekly staple and this version is a bit lighter, cleaner and somehow makes me feel a bit better about slathering it atop crusty, warm bread. You can also pour a bit of fresh cream into the strained cream to add some extra richness and for an incredibly smooth ricotta. The point is it’s quite easy and adaptable so find the version that works best for you.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used distilled or cider, you could also use white wine vinegar)
salt

In a large pot combine the milk and cream and bring to a boil. Watch closely as it can boil over quickly and is a terrible pain to clean, spoken from multiple experiences.
Once the milk has come to a boil turn off the heat and add the vinegar. Give a quick and gentle stir before letting the mixture rest for 1 minute. You should notice almost instantly the little curds begin to form and separate from the whey. You’re making cheese – how crazy is that?!
Line a strainer with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl large enough to catch the whey. Carefully pour the hot curds and whey over the cheese cloth. Let this drain for about 20-25 minutes or until it is the consistency you desire.
Add a bit of good quality salt. You don’t need much, if any, if you plan to use it for sweet recipes.
Before you cover and refrigerate your ricotta make sure to take a bite while it’s warm. There’s really nothing better.
Refrigerated this will keep for one week.

Melted Leeks

1 large leek
2 tablespoons butter
pinch chile flakes
salt

Thinly slice the white part of a large leek. If you happen to cut where the white gradually transitions to citron I wouldn’t mind.
In a skillet melt the butter then add the leeks. Add a pinch of salt and cook on medium-low until the leeks soften, become translucent and just start to caramelize.

Top a crisp piece of bread with fresh ricotta, warm leeks and a bit of chile flake.

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Salted Caramel Date Loaf

 

They say a good friend listens, lends a shoulder to sop up tears, is trustworthy and dependable. Yeah, yeah those are great but this week I’ve seen that a good friend will also schlep a caramel cake from San Francisco to Seattle in her carry-on for the sole purpose of sharing it with you. Now that is a good friend.

I bit into that cake and reveled in its deep caramel flavor. Not one for baked goods that are cloyingly sweet I fell in love with its bitterness and mourned the last bite.

By the next morning I still couldn’t shake the taste. Not knowing yet what to bake but just that I needed to, I turned on the oven. I flipped through a few cookbooks but when the flavor I craved couldn’t be found I hung my head and nearly turned off the now hot oven while trying to rid myself of longing for more caramel cake. In desperation I picked a simple baking book that I admittedly didn’t reserve much hope for. As I scanned the pages the words, “Date Bread” jumped out at me and just like that I was dreaming of dates and caramel together in one tender loaf.

In a pan I swirled flakes of white sugar until it puddled and melted, bubbled and spurted before becoming a pool of a molten deep copper liquid. Smoke rose from the pan and lifted with it a scent of a nearly burnt sugar – my favorite place to bring caramel. Hot water was added and then chopped dates. I held my breath as the cake no longer held any association with the original recipe except that there were dates involved.

The batter was the most unusual and brilliant rust color – the same that stops me as I walk past Fall leaves that have just turned.

I sat by the oven with the light illuminating the cake hoping for lift, for edges that gently pull from the sides and for the bitter caramel to permeate the entire loaf.

“Success!” I declared as I pulled the cake from the oven. While warm I poured more caramel on top which then proceeded to harden and crackle – which was not exactly the plan. We didn’t let the first cake go to waste but the next day more cream was added and butter melted in until a deep glaze filled out the cake beautifully.

Ivy and I eagerly ate a still-warm piece and she too declared it a success by licking her plate and saying, “Dis is yummy, mama!”

We shared with the boys before I wrapped up a little piece for my friend. While I didn’t have to travel to San Francisco and back to share this cake with her I think she still appreciated it all the same.

 

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Salted Caramel Date Loaf

adapted to the point of being unrecognizable from Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book: Recipes from an American Childhood

 1 cup sugar

1 cup (about 6 ounces) chopped and pitted dates

1 cup hot water

6 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

1/4 teaspoon (or so) good sea salt, for finishing

 

Cake:

 

Grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2 ” loaf pan and pre-heat your oven to 350*F.

 

In a medium sauce pan melt the sugar until deeply caramelized and just starting to smoke. The caramel should be deep amber in color and smell sweet with a bit of bitterness. Stir the sugar around gently until it all is melted and caramelized. Turn off the heat and carefully add the water, chopped dates and butter. Stir everything together until well combined. If the caramel hardens just return the pan to low heat until it all melts. Let this mixture sit for 15 minutes.

 

Add the caramel mixture to a large bowl. To that add the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir until just combined before adding the egg and vanilla extract. Mix well.

 

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

 

While the cake is still warm and in the pan make the glaze by melting the butter and the brown sugar together in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once the sugar and butter have melted add the cream and stir until combined.

 

Using a skewer or a toothpick poke holes all over the top of the still-warm loaf. Pour the hot caramel glaze over the top.

 

Let the glaze settle into the cake for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan and letting it cool on a wire rack.

 

Top the glazed cake with a sprinkle of sea salt – any nice crunchy salt will do.

 

As with most cakes this one is best the day after baking.

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