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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Homemade Yogurt with Butter Toasted Walnuts and Honey

I’m not usually one for routines except for Tuesday mornings. Baron and I beat the sun up as we head off to school. In between drop off and me returning to spend the morning with 12 kindergartners reading about Zip the zebra I squeeze in breakfast for one at one of my favorite places in Seattle. Lingering over a Cappuccino I lean into a conversation with a dad and his young son. After they’ve debated the doneness of their eggs and ultimately switch breakfasts they talk of future plans; where they’d like to travel and what they’d like to see. They also talk of nothing but they do so together. The dad is engaged, listening and there is nothing more important than his son in that moment. Not even his Croque Monsier. I can’t help but smile while subtly watching the scene.

I’ve never been the one who has “the usual” but on Tuesday mornings I do. Cool yogurt, tangy and dripping off the spoon clings to toasted walnuts and a honey so floral and sweet my throat tightens a bit with each bite. There are days when I’m tempted to order the baked eggs with ham and gruyere or perhaps a butter-flecked croissant but it is always the yogurt that ends up in front of me. It’s a taste I now crave and love to enjoy slowly while silently chuckling to myself as the young guy next to me orders a Macchiato and explains to his friend that it’s a caramel flavored coffee drink. As the real Macchiato arrives you can imagine his confusion when an espresso cup with a smoky, black shot arrives with just a bit of foamed milk on top.

The sun pours in and illuminates my cup by the time I’m on my second. I may write a bit, edit some images, read one of the many books I’m well into or I may just sit and revel in the quiet moment alone. When the majority of my days are with three young and not-so quiet children these moments feel like a gift. During this breakfast I have a moment to catch my breath, linger in the quiet or the conversations of others in which I have no obligation to participate in. Walking away from that time I feel better equipped to take on the rest of the week, find joy in the loud days when I long for more quiet and already anticipating next week’s little cup of yogurt.

 

 

 

 

Homemade Yogurt Resources:

Epicurious

Food Republic

Food In Jars

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Homemade Yogurt with Butter Toasted Walnuts and Honey

I realized a week is too long to wait for this taste so I determined to recreate it at home and am very happy with the results. It also solves my morning problem of not eating breakfast – which I’m known to do. The mornings are quite frantic and by the time I’ve got the kids their food I’ve little desire to make more for myself. But this is thrown together in less than a minute and packs the protein to satisfy until lunch. Of course you are welcome to skip the step of making your own yogurt, just substitute any plain yogurt. 

Homemade Yogurt
4 cups whole milk
3 T plain yogurt (with active, live cultures)

In a medium saucepan bring the milk to 180*F, or just to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to around 115*F. You can speed up this process by submerging the pan in an ice bath. In a small bowl combine the plain yogurt with 1 cup warm milk. Mix to combine gently. Add this mixture back to the rest of the milk.
For the next 5-10 hours (depending on how fast the yogurt is developing and how thick you want it) you will need to maintain the temperature between 110*F-115*F. I use a small slow cooker with a thermometer tucked into the milk. As the temperature drops I turn on the slow cooker for 5-10 minutes then turn it off and let it sit there until the temperature drops. You could also set the milk in a just warm oven with the pilot light on.
Let the yogurt sit undisturbed at this point. Once you’ve reached the desired thickness or flavor let the yogurt set up in the fridge for several hours. It will firm up quite a bit but still remain quite loose as homemade yogurt is.
Before eating I pass my yogurt through a strainer to get a perfectly creamy texture. If you’d like the yogurt thicker, like Greek yogurt, you could line a strainer with cheesecloth and let the whey drain off until the desired thickness is reached.

Butter Toasted Walnuts

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup walnuts

In a large skillet melt the butter and add the walnuts. Toast until butter browns and the nuts send off a toasty fragrance, about 3-5 minutes.
Let cool before topping your yogurt. Drizzle a good amount of honey over the walnuts and yogurt.

 

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Fennel and Apple Salad with Toasted Fennel Seed Vinaigrette

 

 

Friday, you’re good.
Snuggled up on the couch with two of the kidlets, with coffee in hand and Curious George in the background, I had just had the urge for an indulgent pastry when Gabe walks through the door with donuts. After all these years maybe he is finally learning to read my mind?!
Then I look out the window to see frosting covering the grass and glittering in the sun – yes, SUN! You see it’s such a rare gift to see the sun and feel a bit of its warmth this time of year. So rare in fact that when it’s here we take advantage; windows open, playtime outside and a moment to just bask in its light.
Friends, you’re going to laugh at this one – tonight we are going to see Barry Manilow and ice skaters. This life of mine is so odd at times, I love it. Earlier in the week I styled a shoot for a commercial that will air when the skating show is on tv (later this month). One of the perks was tickets to the show and who can say no to a little Manilow and ice (well, Gabe could of but I’m insisting)?
And then there’s this salad. I created this recipe for Wisconsin Cheese and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It’s a simple salad, as I like to have quite often, but the toasted fennel seed in the dressing and the nutty gruyere really makes it something special. My husband shot the video (he’s so good, right?!) and the folks at Wisconsin Cheese put it together.
Your Friday might not include Manilow but I still hope it’s a good one none-the-less.
Happy weekend!
Oh, one more thing: I’m hosting a little giveaway from a*pour toi on my Facebook page. If you’re not a “liker” of the page I’d “like” you to be if you’d “like”. (Is that subtle enough?)

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Fennel and Apple Salad with Toasted Fennel Vinaigrette

As much as I love the cozy warmth that braises, roasts and long simmered stews provide, I grow tired of them. A few years ago I realized that much of what is in season during the winter tastes great simple sliced and eaten raw. It offers a fresh bite and crisp crunch that is often lacking in my cold month diet. This salad features raw fennel and it’s toasted seeds that scent the tangy vinaigrette. Pleasant Ridge Reserve adds the perfect bit of nuttiness and heft that this light salad needs. A very welcomed, fresh meal this time of year.

Vinaigrette

1 teaspoon fennel (use whole seed that you’ve toasted and ground, if possible)
1 teaspoon mustard
½ teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

In a bowl combine the fennel, mustard, honey, and lemon juice. Whisk to combine. While whisking those ingredients drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle the dressing onto fresh greens (I used arugula and butter lettuce). Top that with thinly sliced apple, fennel and toasted walnuts. Finish it all off with shavings of Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

*I was paid by Wisconsin Cheese to create this content but I’m so happy with how it turned out I wanted to share it with you here as well.

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Dating My Husband: when it comes easy

There are days when the date night is another item on the to do list. We do it to continue the habit knowing that even in our exhaustion the time together is necessary. We never regret that time together because even in the most tired evenings, when it’s simply a cocktail and a 30 minute conversation, we are always glad that we had that time.

But then there are the times when I’m driving my son to school on Monday already dreaming of the menu for our date night on Thursday. When the thought of sauteing onions, sitting at a quiet table with my husband and talking about our hope for the new year seems about as close to perfection as I can imagine. Gabe and I have dated since I was 18 and yet there are still times when my stomach flutters as if it’s our first date. I’m grateful for those moments because they are the ones that sustain the not-so-fluttery moments.

He fed the kids a simple dinner while I poured us each a glass of red wine. At the store I had determined that the perfect appetizer for our date night meal of meatball sandwiches was Cool Ranch Doritos. He agreed and we both happily ate our chips and drank wine remarking out it was oddly not such a terrible pairing.

As Gabe tucked and re-tucked the kids into bed I mixed and formed the meatballs. They simmered in a bath of tomatoes while the food processor pureed a quick pesto – herby and bright with a punch of garlic so powerful that I’m sure the scent helped flavor our neighbor’s dinner.

“Smells great in here.” He said as he came down the stairs and grabbed another chip. I smiled proudly and continued with our dinner in between sips of wine.

While the sandwiches lounged in the oven snug in an aluminum foil blanket, giving them time for the cheese to melt and the bread to crisp, I threw together a simple salad. Ruffled leaves of butter lettuce, grapefruit with avocado and very little else.

Not much was said while we feasted on our sandwiches. I enjoyed the tomato-bathed meatballs fragrant with red wine and romano and happily feasted on the crisp, buttery, and bright salad but my satisfaction was in seeing my husband eating with great abandon. I fight the urge to sound like or even be this image of a 50’s era housewife or some sort of June Cleaver type woman who works tirelessly for the sake of her man, but golly did it ever feel good to love my husband through this meal. And I guess that too is part of love – when the joy of someone else becomes more valuable than your own.

For dessert a bit more wine and vulnerability in sharing our vision for the new year. I read him the draft of my last post and we talked about specific goals; some practical, others lofty. When the goals were as closely committed to stone as we could muster – a Sharpie on a large piece of white paper, we stacked the dishes in the sink for the next day, cozied up on the couch and watched more Homeland then we probably should have.

I soaked in the night that felt so easy and right. Without sounding too pessimistic I committed that feeling to memory knowing that its storage would serve useful on the hard days. This is how it is in a relationship. Some days things just come naturally. It’s not hard to remember why I said, “I do”. The days when his touch is electric, the sound of my name passing his lips makes me feel loved and I have nothing but joy and hope for our days ahead. And then there are the days where I have to work to catch those moments. Where I remember simple truths like: You can’t be healthy without eating well and a bit of exercise. You can’t be a writer without writing. And you can’t grow your marriage without some effort. Sometimes the effort feels like work or a sacrifice and then there are times when you make meatball sandwiches knowing how happy that will make him. You kiss him without thinking about it and you can think of nothing better than the rest of your life with him. Its these days that make the others worth working on.

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Meatball Sandwich with Pesto Aioli // Grapefruit Avocado Salad

adapted from Tartine Bread

It’s quite possible I bought myself this book for Christmas and then had Gabe wrap it and put it under the tree for me. I did, however refrain from looking at it until I opened it Christmas morning which was when I spotted this sandwich that from the very first look, was destined to be a date night meal.

Pesto Aioli
makes about 1 cup pesto / 1 ½ cups aioli
The original recipe calls for ¼ cup garlic. While I love garlic I found it far too much. So here I’ve cut it back. Also, I decided to turn the spread into an aioli because I’m just weak for a creamy spread on indulgent sandwiches such as this one.

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup chopped arugula
¼ cup toasted almonds
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper
¼ – ½ cup mayonnaise

Combine everything except the mayonnaise in a food processor and process until a smooth paste is formed. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
You could use it on the sandwich as just a pesto spread or, as we did, you could turn it into an aioli by adding some mayonnaise. Start with ¼ cup then taste and adjust if you’d like.
This can be made a few days in advance if well covered and refrigerated.

Meatballs
This recipe makes a lot of meatballs. For the sake of time and not wanting to eat meatballs everyday for a week I decided to freeze half the recipe. And now I’m already looking forward to a day when my dinner creativity is zapped and I can simply open the freezer for a quick meal.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated Romano cheese
¼ cup red wine
2 cups bread crumbs
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed and the leaves chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
pinch red pepper flakes

Tomato Sauce

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (28 oz) chopped tomatoes

soft ciabatta bread – or any other type you’d like to use
sliced provolone

In a large skillet over medium heat add the oil and the onions and cook until transluscent and just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Let the onions cool.
In a large bowl combine the remainder of the ingredients with the cooled onions. Mix everything well using your hands as they are the best tool in the kitchen. The mixture is quite wet.
Shape the mixture into roughly apricot size meatballs.
Heat a large skillet with a bit more oil. Sear the meatballs on all sides working in batches as to not overcrowd the pan. Transfer the seared meatballs to a plate and continue to work in this way until all the meatballs have been seared.
Drain the fat from the skillet then return the pan to the stove over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and with a wooden spoon scrape up any dark bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Bring the tomatoes to a boil then reduce the heat to low. Return the meatballs to the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Spread half of the bread with the pesto aioli then place a few meatballs along with a bit of sauce on the other half. Top the meatballs with a slice of provolone. Wrap the sandwich in aluminum then place in the oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the bread is crisp. Let stand before eating as the sandwich will be very hot.

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
adapted from Canal House Cooks Every Day

serves 2
There was a time when I thought salads were their best in the Summer but Winter, you’re winning me over with salads like this one. Also, I’d like to add that I’m hereby requesting to be an honorary member of the Canal House cooks. Maybe they’d let me do their dishes? This book also came to me by way of Christmas (although I didn’t buy it myself) and so far I couldn’t recommend it enough.

1 ruby red grapefruit
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pinch chile flakes
1 avocado, peeled and quartered
1 head butter lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Remove the ends of the grapefruit with a sharp paring knife. Follow the curve of the fruit with the knife and slice off the peel and white pith exposing the flesh. Over a bowl, hold the grapefruit in one hand and cut out each segment by running the knife down both sides of the membrane. Let the segments drop into the bowl along with the juice. Add to the bowl the vinegar, chile flakes and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste.
On a platter arrange the butter lettuce and avocado. Drizzle the dressing and the grapefruit over the top. Dust the chives over it all. Serve immediately.

 

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Thoughts for a new year and salad

At the end of all the holiday activity I had carved out a day to go see Les Miserables with a couple of friends. The previews alone were enough to fill my eyes with tears so I knew well enough to grab a couple extra napkins to sop up my tear-stained cheeks but what I didn’t know was that it was through watching the movie I would pick up a sentence that I now hope to be my theme for 2013.

First let me tell you briefly of the story – enough so that you see the power in these words but not enough to spoil it as you really must see this film. It’s a story of redemption. For stealing a loaf of bread to feed his nephew, a man named Jean Valjean toils in prison for over 20 years working tirelessly and endlessly cast down with shame. In the end he skips parole and spends the rest of his life running from the law. Along his journey he meets a priest who sees him not as a criminal but as forgiven and free from the shame that he had carried with him as a heavy burden. He struggles with his identity until he understands his forgiveness and finds peace in that freedom. Jean Valjean’s freedom allows him to love others and care for a child that is not his own. He overcomes shame and alters the lives of others through his love.

These few sentences don’t do the film nor the book any justice but it is this picture of grace that always speaks to me most clearly when watching this story.

In one of the final scenes (I promise, I’m not giving it away) the words “to love another person is to see the face of God” ring throughout a candlelit chapel. With tears streaming those words rang in my ears and have not since left.

I have a few goals for the new year. I’ve already begun the annual call for health by supplementing all the cookies and fondue I ate over the holiday with greens; loads and loads of greens. Also, I’m allowing Jillian Michaels to kick my butt by way of the 30 day shred. I’ve even made the doctors and dentists appointments I’ve been putting off for months. There’s talk of tighter budgets and bigger homes. We’re thinking about travel plans and garden plans. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the blog – how I want to be a better writer, photographer and recipe developer, but most importantly I just want to be here more. Even when the words are fumbled and the images aren’t perfect I just want to be here. Because of course we all know reality isn’t perfect and I’d rather you know more about the real me than see me as something that I am not.

I’m not setting a lot of specific goals this year but with the ones I do make I am I’m holding them with an open hand. The idea of creating a goal is not to create anxiety along with it. To rob my year of peace in order to live a year devoted to doing a lot of “things” is actually exactly the opposite of what I want. Which is why everything I do put on my list of “goals” or to dos for the year must first pass through the filter of “to love another person is to see the face of God.” That’s what I ultimately want. To get a glimpse of glory by loving those around me.

I want to love my husband better. To enjoy him more freely and to be less selfish in my love for him. And my children. It’s so easy to go throughout our hectic days and miss the opportunity to pause and look them in the eye and remember that they aren’t just little ones clamoring for more of this or more of that but they are individuals each with their own needs, desires and gifts. I want to know them more and love them as who they are more effectively this year. And myself. I want to stop fighting to be some sort of image of who I think I should be and really enjoy who I was created to be. To not make excuses for what I have deemed weaknesses but to live fully in all of myself – forgiving and asking for forgiveness often and laughing at myself the hardest. And my community. The one closest to me and the one beyond – which also includes you all. I feel so loved by you and it’s quite humbling in that I’m not sure how to return the favor but I do want to share more, show more and eat more so I do hope you’re okay with that.

After many days of very few vegetables, we are loving our bodies a bit better by upping the salads and decreasing the sugar. I love vegetables but it’s still hard to make that transition after cookies, candies, cakes and cocktails became the norm for a few weeks so I make it a little easier on ourselves by making a delightfully creamy dressing to coat our greens. The thing is though, that although this dressing is creamy and as satisfying as the one found in the Hidden Valley it’s made from plain yogurt instead of the usual mayonnaise and sour cream. It’s tangy with a bit of garlic bite and the sort of freshness that you think is only possible in the summer.

It seems silly to talk of dressing while at the same time speaking of love but ever since I’ve had those words stuck in my head it helps me give intention to my actions. It helps me prioritize and simplify. My life is filled with purpose and joy – even in the little things, like a green salad.

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Yogurt Ranch Dressing

After a holiday party where fresh vegetables were served with a classic Ranch dressing I knew I had to recreate that nostalgia with something a bit lighter. Since then our carrot sticks have never looked back. Feel free to use whatever herbs you might have. I used fresh but dried would work too – just not too much as dried packs more punch than fresh. And of course real garlic can be used instead of the garlic powder but for the sake of nostalgia I went with the powder.

 

½ cup whole milk plain yogurt

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil, chives, thyme – whatever you have)

salt & pepper

 

Combine all ingredients. Taste and adjust to your liking.

If you think the dressing too thick you can add a bit of milk, water or olive oil.

Spoon on top of clean, cool greens.

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Homemade Bitters

The calendar marches on with great force even though I’m continually urging it to slow down. Unfortunately my pleas go unnoticed but I assure you you still have time to gift your family, friends or yourself with homemade bitters.

Last week I taught a room full of eager students how to make bitters. We all hudled around a table cluttered with little jars of infusions and with droppers in hand, each descended on various ingredients to create a custom blend of herbs and spices for the purpose of elevating their cocktails. There was cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Citrus, in all its various shades, sat next to dried cherry and raisin. Wormwood and Orris root provided some bitterness while vanilla, coffee and cocoa nib rounded it out. They smelled and tasted, added a few more ingredients and tasted again until they thought it perfect. They tested their final concoction with a simple champagne cocktail in which a sugar cube is drenched in bitters – classically Angostura, but tonight their own – then topped with champagne.

So let’s get right down to it because like I said, there’s not much time.

A bitters is essentially an alcoholic liquid flavored with different herb, spice and dried fruit infusions. Bitters are used in cocktail making as a way of creating a lovely, subtle additional layer of flavor. I once heard them described as “the salt of the cocktail” which I think helps to understand their value in a great cocktail.

The first step in making bitters at home is to make a variety of infusions. I like to make the infusions separately as opposed to mixing all the ingredients in one container of vodka (use a high-proof and odorless alcohol – I used a 100 proof vodka) because different ingredients take longer or shorter to infuse with the alcohol. Plus, I like feeling like a chemist and having a the fun of making dozens of different types of bitters. This is great for making gifts for the holidays or would make a great activity for a cocktail party.

So gather a variety of herbs, spices, dried fruit, etc. Most ingredients can be found at the grocery store – particularly in the bulk section. Some of the more exotic roots I ordered from a company called Mountain Rose Herbs. The roots are used to give the bitters – as the name suggests – a bitter taste. Dried citrus peel also adds bitterness so if you are wanting this for the holiday and don’t have time to order the roots, or simply don’t want to deal with it, just be sure to infuse some dried citrus peel so you’ll have that bitter component.

Add about a teaspoon of your ingredient to 4 ounces of vodka. If you are pressed for time you can add more of the spice or herb to speed up the process although this will taste different than a longer infusion would.

Cover the infusion tightly and set aside.

Knowing when the infusion is ready is really a job for your nose. You’ll notice a color change in the vodka almost immediately. As the days move on continually open the container and smell your infusion. When fully infused the vodka will smell strongly of the herb or spice and will taste heavily of that ingredient. For herbs and spices this will take about 7-10 days. If you are using dried fruit expect to let it sit for 2-3 weeks.

Once the infusions taste as you want them too you are ready to make bitters. Simply strain out the infused ingredients using a clean fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Replace the strained infusions back into their jars and begin mixing. Make sure everything you use in this process is very clean and sterilized.

Fill ⅓ of a small dropper bottle with distilled water. Using a pipet choose a selection of several infusions. If you want your bitters to be heavy in one infusion then add a whole pipet or two (roughly 1 tablespoon). The lesser flavors you want should only be added by a few drops.

I think it works best if you have a certain type of alcohol or cocktail in mind when creating the bitters. For example, my first adventure into bittering (pretty sure that’s not a word but it quite possibly should be) I had pear brandy on my mind so I created a bitters that was heavy in cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg and juniper. There were other ingredients in there as well, as most bitters have somewhere between 10 – 30 different ingredients, but they were less pronounced.

And since we are making an accessory for cocktails I thought I’d also share with you a cocktail that needs some accessorizing.

Happy Bittering!

Champagne Cocktail
from the Metropolitan Hotel, New York City circa 1935

1 cube sugar
bitters (classically Angostura)
chilled champagne

Soak sugar cube with a couple of good splashes of bitters and set in the bottom of a large champagne flute.

Fill slowly with sparkling wine.

Garnish with a lemon twist.

.

Check out these other great resources on making your own bitters:

Adventures in Cooking: DIY Bitters

Bitters and Twisted

Food and Wine: How to Make Bitters

Reclaiming Provencial: Homemade Bitters

And if you find yourself with time in Portland take a class from Mark Bitterman at The Meadow – seriously.

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A complete list the infusions I made:

Cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, coriander, cardamom, coffee, cocoa nib, vanilla, wormwood, orris root, qassia bark, ginger, juniper, allspice, red chile, black pepper, celery seed, dried orange peel, dried lemon peel, dried lime peel, raisin, dried cherry,

And a few supplies:

Pipettes 3ml, Gradulated, Pack of 100

Amber Glass Bottle 4oz W/glass Dropper

Ball Quilted Jelly Canning Jar 4 Oz., Case of 12

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Homemade Bitters

The first step in making bitters at home is to make a variety of infusions. I like to make the infusions separately as opposed to mixing all the ingredients in one container of vodka (use a high-proof and odorless alcohol – I used a 100 proof vodka) because different ingredients take longer or shorter to infuse with the alcohol. Plus, I like feeling like a chemist and having a the fun of making dozens of different types of bitters. This is great for making gifts for the holidays or would make a great activity for a cocktail party.

So gather a variety of herbs, spices, dried fruit, etc. Most ingredients can be found at the grocery store – particularly in the bulk section. Some of the more exotic roots I ordered from a company called Mountain Rose Herbs. The roots are used to give the bitters – as the name suggests – a bitter taste. Dried citrus peel also adds bitterness so if you are wanting this for the holiday and don’t have time to order the roots, or simply don’t want to deal with it, just be sure to infuse some dried citrus peel so you’ll have that bitter component.

Add about a teaspoon of your ingredient to 4 ounces of vodka. If you are pressed for time you can add more of the spice or herb to speed up the process although this will taste different than a longer infusion would.

Cover the infusion tightly and set aside.

Knowing when the infusion is ready is really a job for your nose. You’ll notice a color change in the vodka almost immediately. As the days move on continually open the container and smell your infusion. When fully infused the vodka will smell strongly of the herb or spice and will taste heavily of that ingredient. For herbs and spices this will take about 7-10 days. If you are using dried fruit expect to let it sit for 2-3 weeks.

Once the infusions taste as you want them too you are ready to make bitters. Simply strain out the infused ingredients using a clean fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Replace the strained infusions back into their jars and begin mixing. Make sure everything you use in this process is very clean and sterilized.

Fill ⅓ of a small dropper bottle with distilled water. Using a pipet choose a selection of several infusions. If you want your bitters to be heavy in one infusion then add a whole pipet or two (roughly 1 tablespoon). The lesser flavors you want should only be added by a few drops.

I think it works best if you have a certain type of alcohol or cocktail in mind when creating the bitters. For example, my first adventure into bittering (pretty sure that’s not a word but it quite possibly should be) I had pear brandy on my mind so I created a bitters that was heavy in cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg and juniper. There were other ingredients in there as well, as most bitters have somewhere between 10 – 30 different ingredients, but they were less pronounced.

And since we are making an accessory for cocktails I thought I’d also share with you a cocktail that needs some accessorizing.

Happy Bittering!

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Hot Buttered Rum

I’m filled with an eager excitement thinking on all the things I want to do, see and accomplish this time of year: Twinkling lights of red, green, blue and yellow to be seen while drinking hot chocolate. Gifts to be bought and gifts to be made. Cookies to be enjoyed and vegetables eaten to balance it all. Then there’s the great responsibility and joy of trying to teach the kids that even though there are lists to be made and there will be gifts for them that that is not really what this time of year is about. So we bring cookies to the neighbors, read stories, build tradition and try the best we can.

All of this in the midst of teaching classes, creating cookie recipes, and putting dinner on the table. It’s busy – particularly last week, which is why you didn’t see much of me around here.

In the midst of all the chaos there have been little pockets of quiet and rest – moments that mark this season as my favorite. Nestled next to a blazing fire, a towering pine scented tree casts a gentle shadow on the book I’m reading (Jane Eyre – so perfect for this season). I sit across from a dear friend as she pushes fabric through the sewing machine casting perfectly lined up stitches as she works on a present for a friend. I put my book down and cut out a stocking pattern from soft flannel in red, black and gold lines intersecting throughout. We each take warming sips of Hot Buttered Rum in between stitches and cuts.

Before we set out to work on our projects she creamed butter and brown sugar together along with a few spices that are no stranger to this time of year. I tried not to notice the amount of butter and sugar actually going into the recipe. This was my first Hot Buttered Rum and nothing was going to spoil it.

 

Once combined a spoonful of the mixture went into our mugs. Rum covered, then hot water poured on top releasing the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg under its heat. The butter melted and the sugar dissolved as we stirred briskly.

Since then there have been more Hot Buttered Rum, in fact in my freezer there is a roll of the butter, sugar and spice mixture should the craving suddenly hit for this comforting cocktail – after an evening of viewing Christmas lights, perhaps? Or while wrapping gifts, opening up another window on the advent calendar or while eagerly anticipating the season’s first snow. I’m sure I’ll manage to think of many more reasons to pull out that sweet, spiced butter and start the kettle boiling throughout the season.

 

 

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Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Buttered Rum

adapted from Emeril Lagasse

 

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick unsalted butter, soft

2 cup dark brown sugar

 

Cream together the butter, spices and sugar. At this point you can roll up the mixture with parchment into a log. Cover well and refrigerate or freeze for later use. In the fridge the mixture will keep for two weeks, in the freezer a couple of months.

In a mug add a tablespoon of the butter and sugar mixture (the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons but we found 1 was great). Top with a couple ounces of rum and roughly 1/2 cup of hot water. The ratio of the ingredients is really preference.

If possible, enjoy this cocktail near an open fire.

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Brown Butter Ginger Cookies with Mascarpone Cream

Consider this your fair warning: This blog is about to become sugar laden.

“What’s new?” You may say. To that I say, “Hey, remember last week when I fed you Brussels sprouts? Okay then, we’re ready for sugar.”

I know for a fact that there is at least one sweet reader eager for this recipe. She sent me a friendly reminder as I promised to share the recipe after I posted an Instagram of these very cookies. Steadily the weeks passed and still no recipe from me. Instead there was turkey, brussels and eton mess. (We eat well around here, don’t we?)

Now it’s finally time for Brown Butter Ginger Cookies and there are others in the works, I simply can’t help myself this time of year.

The kids donned their costumes while I browned the butter. It was Halloween and I knew that warm cookies would go nicely with the thrill of a candy haul and the excitement of their cousins nearby. The butter bubbled and spurted as Ivy tucked into her freshly sewn butterfly wings. Roman wore some mash up of Darth Vader and Batman while Baron went to school as Spider Man then in the evening decided he’d rather be a Jedi.

The spicy dough came together before the costumes were complete. A few rounds in and out of the oven and the house smelled of a spice market rich in exotic scents. Their domed exterior sparkled in its sugary coat standing tall and lining up neatly in rows on the cooling rack. As they cooled I combined mascarpone with a bit of honey and threw in a vanilla bean for good measure because cookies are great but a sandwich cookie is something special.

We came home from a hectic, yet successful trick-or-treating adventure and while the kids tore into their candy, Gabe and I ate cookies and drank spiced cider. And once the kids were in bed we may have had some of their candy too – shh.

 

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Brown Butter Ginger Cookies with Mascarpone Cream

These cookies are cake-like in texture, complex in flavor and easy to throw together quickly. If you don’t have mascarpone I imagine cream cheese would fill it’s place nicely, in fact I suppose cream cheese would hold up a bit stiffer than the mascarpone, although I love the rich creaminess of mascarpone – tough choice. I recommend filling only what you plan to eat now then keeping the rest of the cookies in an airtight container and the filling in the fridge – both will keep for a few days.

3/4 cup butter, browned*
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Additional sugar for rolling

.
* To brown the butter simply melt in a sauce pan. Let the bubble come to a boil. The milk solids will foam up and as they do watch for them to turn golden. If you have a dark pan you will need to swirl the butter carefully and maybe spoon some on to a white plate to notice the color. You will notice a gently nutty smell wafting from the pan as the solids in the butter start to caramelize. As soon as you see deep golden bits at the bottom of the pan turn off the heat. The butter will continue to brown even as the heat is off so do not let the butter get too dark. Let the butter cool slightly before proceeding with the recipe.

Combine the just warm browned butter with the sugar in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add the egg and molasses and mix well.

Whisk together the remaining ingredients in another bowl then add to the butter and sugar mixture. Stir until just combined.

Use a spoon to scoop tablespoon size balls of dough. Roll the dough in your hands to form and ball then roll in sugar (I prefer Organic sugar for many reasons, one of which being the granules are bigger and more pronounced on the cookie).

Place on a baking sheet (12 per sheet) and bake at 350*F for 10-12 minutes until puffed and set. If you prefer flatter cookies to the ones you see in my images you can gently press them down before baking.

 

Honey Mascarpone Cream

8 oz mascarpone
1 – 2 Tb honey
1 vanilla bean

 

Combine everything in a bowl. Start with 1 tablespoon honey then add more if you’d like. A vanilla bean isn’t necessary but a lovely addition.

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Dating My Husband: Eton Mess

Dating as young, broke college students forced Gabe and I to be creative with our date nights. The truth is we didn’t see this as much of a limitation, we were just happy together. Our homework was done together, every meal in our college cafeteria was eaten together and we did a whole lot of nothing, together.

After a particularly hard final or just because we felt as if we needed it, Gabe and I would lavish ourselves with junk food and junk movies. These evenings happened more regularly than recommended but we always looked forward to them. You’ll cringe when I tell you the menu but like most meals, what matters most is who was there when you shared it.
Frozen pizza and Salsitas with side of Ben and Jerry’s.

 

At the end of the evening we would reluctantly say a sweet goodbye then saunter off each to our own dorm rooms, most likely feeling a bit ill from dinner and already eager to see one another again.

On the nights when we wouldn’t overindulge in junk food we spent hours in the upper lounge of our dorm where we would cozy into plush, purple faux leather chairs and talk, mostly nonsense. When the words ran out we grabbed blank sheets of paper and began doodling. We created intricate worlds with fat, goofy looking cows; their necks a single line, bodies plump and speckled with black squiggly spots.

I loved watching Gabe draw. While I, the art major, focused on realism, he showed that it’s okay not to take yourself too seriously. His drawings of cows continue to make me laugh. I asked him to draw one for you – ridiculous right?!

For our date night last week I was feeling particularly tired and could not will myself to pull together a nice meal for just the two of us. But dessert I could handle. It was as if the memory of our early dating days surfaced as I sent Gabe to the store for Cool Ranch Doritios while I made us an Eton Mess in which I simmered tart dried cherries in a hearty red wine along with cardamom, vanilla bean and a bit of sugar. The cherries looked plump like the cows in Gabe’s drawings as they soaked up the wine and made a syrup of what liquid remained.

Earlier in the day the kids and I crafted with meringue. I made snowflakes and they did some doodling of their own with the piping bag in the form of squiggles that intended to be stars.

While the cherries cooled and the kids slept quietly in bed I whipped up some lightly sweetened cream. Some of the meringue doodles became crumbs for the sake of our dessert and were layered in between the sweet drunken cherries, cream and bittersweet chocolate that was roughly chopped.

The Eton Mess resembled nothing of the desserts we would indulge in on those junk food nights but the zesty chips, snuggling on the couch and doodling we did on the iPad made it feel like a date – one in which we were very familiar with.

This time our drawings had purpose as we are working on a coloring book for the kids for a Christmas present. I may have envisioned an evening like this as a giddy, young college girl dating a handsome, young college boy. As you do, I imagined our lives together, hoping my future involved Gabe. But this reality is so much sweeter than any girlish vision. I’m so much happier now, eating Eton Mess with a side of chips drawing pictures for our three children – than I ever could have dreamed.

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Eton Mess

serves 4

Eton Mess is a classic English dessert usually consisting of strawberries, cream and meringue. I’ve taken a few liberties with my version; using dried cherries, adding wine and dark chocolate.
I’m often the harshest critic of my own food. Often you won’t see me utterly gushing over a recipe I created as I’ve often found a minute flaw but this one, oh this one is damn good. This dessert shut the critic up so I was able to enjoy each bite. The ones in which a good portion of every layer cozied up on the spoon along with a large chunk of bittersweet chocolate – those were my favorite.
There are several components here but they could all be made in advance, just hold off on the final assembly until you are ready to eat.

Stewed Cherries

1 cup dried tart cherries
3 cardamom pods
cinnamon
nutmeg
¼ cup sugar
1 cup wine
1 spent vanilla bean (The meringue calls for a vanilla bean, save that one and use here).

Combine everything in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Over low heat simmer until the wine is reduced down and is nearly like syrup. Let cool completely.

Cherries can be made one week in advance. Cover well and store in the fridge.

 

Meringue Snowflakes
adapted from marthastewart.com

If it’s just meringue you are after I love making these with a bit of peppermint extract. Topped with some crushed candy canes or dipped in chocolate after baking – they make a fine holiday hostess gift.

½ cup egg whites (from about 4 large eggs)
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch salt
1 vanilla bean

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl over a medium size pot filled with simmering water. Whisk continuously until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are warm.
Place the bowl on the stand mixer. Add the cream of tartar. Start the mixer on low then gradually increase to high. Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks appear – about 10 minutes. Add the salt and vanilla bean. Mix to combine.

To pipe the snowflakes I drew a rough pattern on the back of a piece of parchment using a permanent marker. Flip the parchment over so the drawing is on the back side and place on a baking sheet. Use a small round tip (about ¼”). Place the pastry tip in a large piping bag. Fold the bag down about three inches then fill with meringue – don’t fill to the top as this will create quite a mess. Fold the bag up, twist the top and use your left hand to guide the tip while the right hand rests just under the twist in the bag and gently applies pressure (if you are left handed simply switch the hand placement. Pipe the snowflake onto the parchment following the pattern you drew.

Bake meringue in a 275*F oven for about an hour, or until the meringue is completely dry. If the meringue starts to color, turn down your oven. Or turn it off and let the residual heat dry the meringue.

For the Eton Mess you will just need 1 cup of meringue crumbles so you don’t need to pipe snowflakes for that. I let my kids have fun with the piping bag on a baking sheet lined with parchment then used some of their creations for the Mess.

Meringues can be stored in an airtight container for two weeks. If they get soft you can redry in the oven.

Assembling the Mess

2 cups cream
2 Tbl sugar
1 cup meringue crumbles
1 cup chocolate, roughly chopped (I like a mix of shavings and big chunks)
Stewed cherries (recipe above)
Whip the cream with 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form.
Traditionally Eton Mess is just that – a mess. All the components are combined then spooned into a serving dish. Here I combined elements of two classic British desserts as I layered mine more like a Trifle. I like seeing the vibrant wine hued cherries contrast against the meringue and cream. You can combine it all however you wish.
I started with the lightly sweet cream then added some meringue crumbles, on top of that cherries then bits of chocolate. A snowflake meringue capped it off.
All the components can be made in advance but I recommend assembling just before serving as the meringue will get soft as it sits.

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Give Thanks

 

“Give thanks in all things.”

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope for a great meal, joy in the kitchen and many moments of shared thanks.

(These images were the result of a fun side project with Gabe, Kyle Johnson and myself).

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Cider Punch

I have one last suggestion for you to complete your Thanksgiving meal. And I do believe it’s a good one, dare I say I saved the best for last?

It’s time we talk about your Thanksgiving cocktail. Now there are a couple ways you can go about this: If your family is like mine Thanksgiving beverages are nearly as traditional as the marshmallow topped sweet potatoes – red wine with my family, while sparkling cider is the drink of choice with Gabe’s family. With the meal drinks set this could be the cocktail that greets your guests as they pluck a few baby carrots off the vegetable platter or (and this is my favorite idea) this is the cocktail you enjoy while sliding the turkey into the oven. It’s the cocktail you sip in between stirrings of the mashed potatoes or tastes of the gravy. It’s what you are drinking as you set the last fork and stand back to marvel the scene. This is the cook’s cocktail.

Cider punch is the ideal cocktail for the busy cook as there are only two ingredients plus a couple flourishes if you so desire (and I do). While the turkey roasts and the potatoes boil pour an ounce or two of rum into a glass. Top that with apple cider (I like one part rum to four parts apple cider). You could have it over ice or warm the cider – the choice is left to the cook. Top with a touch a of cinnamon and nutmeg. If you happen to have some bitters a few drops really makes the cook quite happy, especially if your bitters, like mine are heady with cinnamon and rosemary and little wisps of clove, cardamom and orange.

If you don’t have bitters and are interested in making your own I just so happen to be teaching at class in Seattle, December 6. We will be making an assortment of gifts from the kitchen including homemade bitters. In fact today I made nearly 20 different infusions for class. (Pretty slick how I just slid that class plug right in there, huh? Sorry, I really do not like that sort of thing but I promised I would and I’m quite excited about this class.

If you aren’t in Seattle I’m thinking I just may put a post up here about the process so you won’t miss out on all the fun. I don’t claim to be a bitters expert but I do claim to be pretty darn excited to have a collection of my own bitters and I’m even more excited to be teaching you all how make your own.

Cheers and happy cooking!

*This simple cocktail was inspired by something I drank at Skillet Diner. Go there. Really.

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Cider Punch

Cider punch is the ideal cocktail for the busy cook as there are only two ingredients plus a couple flourishes if you so desire (and I do). While the turkey roasts and the potatoes boil pour an ounce or two of rum into a glass. Top that with apple cider (I like one part rum to four parts apple cider). You could have it over ice or warm the cider – the choice is left to the cook. Top with a touch a of cinnamon and nutmeg. If you happen to have some bitters a few drops really makes the cook quite happy, especially if your bitters, like mine are heady with cinnamon and rosemary and little wisps of clove, cardamom and orange.

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Brussels Sprout Salad with Red Onion and Pecorino

It is easy to overlook the meager Brussels sprouts for the more traditionally appealing pumpkin pie or mashed potatoes. Those are not difficult to win over fans – wrapped in a flaky crust, layered with spice, whipped with butter and cream – it’s no wonder those dishes get the fame. But today I’m here as an advocate for the tender sprout.

Last year I attempted to woo sprout followers with a dish of charred Brussels sprouts made sweet by an extended stay in a hot oven. Combined with creamy white beans and sharp pecorino it was an easy sell.

This year I’m going raw which may prove a more difficult challenge. But, for me this salad is perfect for the traditionally hefty Thanksgiving meal. Sitting next to a mound of mashed potatoes with a near lake of gravy this bright salad softens its neighbor’s richness. And while taking up prime real estate on your holiday plate you may possibly feel more entitled to a slightly larger piece of pie.

But more important than that this salad stands alone as a great dish. I’ve taught it in a class, made it for friends, told many about its sour, slightly sweet and fresh taste and have had it for lunch and dinner on many occasions. (Never for breakfast but now that I think about it with a fried egg it would make for a mighty way to start the day).

Frilly tendrils of sprouts soften under a tart vinaigrette while pungent red onions and pecorino add richness and the marks the bite as a memorable one. If you feel so inclined a few walnuts tossed in or maybe even toasted breadcrumbs would be a nice addition. But in its simplicity there is greatness.

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Brussels Sprout Salad with Red Onion and Pecorino

Adapted from Food52

A microplane makes the shaving of these little vegetables a quick and simple task but I realize many are fearful of the ridiculously sharp blade of those machines. If that’s the case a sharp knife does the job well. The red onions spend some time soaking in the vinaigrette, softening their pungency and giving them a quick pickle (thanks for this tip, Rachel). The vinaigrette can be made several days in advance and the red onions can bathe in the dressing for a day in advance leaving only the combining of a few ingredients to be done right before dinner.

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups Brussels sprouts (use larger sprouts if possible)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Add the sliced onions and set aside.
Trim all of the brussels sprouts, cutting off any bruised outer leaves and slicing off a good portion of the hard root end. Using a mandoline, shave the sprouts one at a time. When you’re done, use your fingers to gently separate the leaves so that the shredded sprouts resemble a very fine slaw.
Put the sprouts in a serving bowl and toss gently with the onions and the dressing. Fold in the pecorino, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Finish with a bit more pecorino on top then serve immediately.

 

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Turkey Roulade with Sausage Stuffing

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My facebook feed is scattered with friends and family who have dedicated an update of thankfulness for everyday in November. The political rants are becoming less and less while the thanks for family, friends, health are increasing. I appreciate their thankfulness but then quickly return to my own state of longing leaving me feeling dissatisfied.

Instead of feeling thankful for my home I lament it’s size. The sun shines and yet I focus on the cold. My body is eager, warm and alive and I concentrate on the slight tinge of a sore throat that is forming. The pantry is stocked and the fridge is filled with fresh food but I moan over having to cook another meal.

Thankfulness is as much a habit as brushing your teeth or making a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s about shifting your focus to the things that you do have rather than longing for what is not yet yours. In the midst of thankfulness we see all we are unnecessarily given and joy overwhelms the dissatisfaction.

A small home becomes a warm home filled with joyful, healthy children. The cold weather turns to thoughts of brightly colored fall leaves and anticipation of snow and warming drinks. When the time comes for me to cook my family dinner I should be overwhelmed by the fact that I have a family to feed and there is food to cook with and a stove to prepare it on with electricity to heat the pan and clean water to wash my fresh vegetables – I could go on and on.

I’m writing this post while thinking this through and am peeling back the blinding scales as I write. These last few days I’ve successfully felt sorry for myself – overwhelmed with work, exhausted by the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother and blinded by dissatisfaction. I didn’t come to this space to write about thankfulness but I’m so glad I did as I can see now how selfish I’ve been and am so thankful to be aware.

Joy returns and reroutes me outward. With a focus on thankfulness rather than lamenting over what I want differently in my life the resulting joy presses me to love and serve which ultimately leads to satisfaction greater than any “want” could ever give.

I did indeed come here to tell you about our turkey and I’m so thankful for this space to share it with you all because you need to know about this turkey.

This year will mark the second in which we’ve made a boneless turkey. A quick call to the local market and a boneless turkey is ready for pickup the next day. The bones are then saved for stock and used to make a rich gravy or saved to make the traditional leftover turkey soup.
The advantage to a boneless turkey is that carving is simple and clean, the dark meat and white meat mingle in the roll creating a harmonious flavorful meat and the options for stuffing are endless and provide even more flavor which can sometimes be lacking in turkey.

The turkey that ceremoniously lands on our Thanksgiving table this year will be stuffed with an herby, sausage-laden stuffing dotted with dried cherries and toasted hazelnuts. I’m already feeling thankful for that day and for the opportunity to enjoy this turkey again.
What a great time of year to be reminded to exercise the habit of thankfulness.

 

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Turkey Roulade with Sausage Stuffing

inspired by Ina Garten

Serves 8

The most difficult part about this recipe is tying the stuffed turkey just prior to roasting. It makes the job much easier if you have an extra set of hands help you get the turkey to submit. It’s going to be messy and you’ll feel a bit clumsy. Be brave and confident as it will come together and your reward for such bravery will be a flavorful and moist turkey that will sure evoke elation and cheers as it’s brought to the table for (easy) carving.

3/4 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
1/2 cup brandy
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups diced onions (2 onions)
1 cup (1/2-inch-diced) celery (3 stalks)
3/4 pound pork sausage, casings removed
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted
3 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (homemade recipe below)
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 large egg, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good mustard
1 whole turkey boned (save bones, wings and giblets for gravy and stock)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 

Place the dried cherries in a small saucepan and pour in the brandy and 1/4 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, crumbling it into small bits with a fork, and saute, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Stir in 1 teaspoon paprika and a pinch of salt. Add the cherries with the liquid, the chopped rosemary, and hazelnuts and cook for 2 more minutes. Scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

Place the stuffing mix in a large bowl. Add the sausage mixture, chicken stock, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and stir well. (The stuffing may be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan.

Lay the butterflied turkey skin side down on a cutting board. Sprinkle the meat with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and spread the mustard over the turkey.

Spread the stuffing in a 1/2-inch-thick layer over the meat, leaving a half-inch border on all sides. Don’t mound the stuffing or the turkey will be difficult to roll. (Place any leftover stuffing in a buttered gratin dish and bake for the last 45 minutes of roasting alongside the turkey.)

Starting at 1 end, roll the turkey like a jelly roll and tuck in any stuffing that tries to escape on the sides. Tie the roast firmly with kitchen twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder.

Place the stuffed turkey seam side down on the rack on the sheet pan. Brush with the melted butter, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and remaining ½ teaspoon paprika, and roast for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees F in the center.

Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Carve 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve warm with the extra stuffing.

 

Homemade Stuffing Mix

3 cups ½” diced rustic bread
½ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, sage, rosemary, thyme etc.)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
pepper

 

Combine everything in a large bowl and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350*F until bread is golden and dried out, about 20 minutes. Stir the mixture halfway through the baking process. Taste and add more salt if desired.

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Pumpkin Graham Bread

It seems we’ve begun a new tradition in our family. That is, if you consider two weeks of loaf cakes on Sunday a tradition. I certainly do and it’s one that I don’t intend to quit.

It’s these loaves that mix up in minutes, spend an hour in the oven (giving the right amount of time to sit with my coffee then cook up a few eggs to add more substance to our Sunday breakfast) and taste more complex than their recipe asks, that have us deeming it a new tradition.

There’s another, far more selfish reason for the Sunday loaf: It’s Monday when the cake is best and in a moment of settled quiet I enjoy another slice. With an overnight rest the flavor both richens and mellows and the texture settles into itself. With most cakes I’ve found this to be true. The second day cake is tender and springy. In this particular loaf the spices weave their way into the loaf and boost the pumpkin flavor while the texture relaxes and easily submits.

My Sunday slice is shared around the table with little fingers grabbing for crumbs and eager for seconds. Monday’s slice is savored slowly as the crisp sugary edges are eaten first, followed by the soft, spicy interior. Each bite is enjoyed in between pages of my book and sips of coffee. The kids have had their breakfast and are entertained with legos, coloring or Curious George while I sit on the couch with my pumpkin bread.

Around the table on Sunday I love the fluttering murmur of excitement around the still-warm loaf. I love the anticipation that builds when traditions are firmly established. But I also love having a bit of incentive to get out of bed early on a Monday morning and to start the week with a lovely loaf cake made the day before. Either way this tradition is destined to linger awhile.

 

 

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Pumpkin Graham Bread

Makes 1 loaf
This recipe pulls inspiration from a couple sources. From Grandma’s recipe box I decided to marry pumpkin with Graham flour as there are multiple versions of Graham bread scattered throughout. But since I was fresh out of “sour milk” I went with Elise’s recipe for pumpkin bread as the foundation.
Graham flour is essentially whole wheat flour with more texture. The parts of the wheat kernel are ground separately then joined together at the end of the milling process.
In order to ensure Sunday’s loaf leaves enough for Monday you may want to double this recipe to produce two loaves. You’ve been warned.

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup Graham flour (whole wheat flour could be substituted)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch white pepper (optional)
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup olive oil (or other neutral oil)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup water
¼ cup seeds/nuts (I used sliced almonds and sunflower seeds but you could use anything really)

Preheat your oven to 350*F and butter a loaf pan.
In a bowl combine the flours, salt, brown sugar, baking soda and spices with a whisk.
In another bowl mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, honey and water. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir to combine.
Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan and top with seeds, nuts and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar (regular sugar is fine). Bake about 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Turn out of the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

 

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Dating My Husband: travels together

Along a winding road sharing its edge with a muttering river to one side and towering trees at the peak of their lush summer coat on the other, Gabe and I listened to a booming voice read John Steinbeck’s, “Travels with Charley”. Steinbeck’s words fit our scenery as he, along with his dog, Charley, tightly packed a trailer named Rocinante and drove similar roads all across America. His desire was to connect with the land and the people that he so often wrote about. The book is filled with Steinbeck’s illustrative prose and bits of wisdom that he slips in without pause.

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

- John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America


With the mention of marriage this quote caught my attention but at first I stubbornly disagreed. You can control marriage, I thought with clinched shoulders and great conviction. You and your partner can determine to fight through the struggles, turn to one another to celebrate the joys and persevere in the day to day connecting in it all. In marriage you do have control over how you utilize your time and how much you are willing to work to make the relationship a healthy and thriving one. But as I later re-read his words I realized that my natural instinct is to think I can control a lot more than I really do.

.

Life is simply uncontrollable. I have little power over tragedies, disappointments and bumps that inevitably mark the course of our timeline. I fret and lie in a pool of anxiety that I foolishly and unnecessarily build for myself. For what? What control do I have except to control my response to the path laid out for me? I can’t control the big picture and oh my word, thank goodness for that. Realizing this feels as freeing as removing a heavy pack after a long and arduous journey. Relief.

In marriage, Gabe and I signed up to be fellow travelers in this journey that we can not control. We work together to plan what we can, dream of possibilities and determine what we feel is best for our little family. But even if those things never become a reality, even if our “plan” is completely derailed and life puts us on a different route we are committed to traveling through it all together. Knowing his commitment to me and mine to him we are free to enjoy our journey and work together to deal with what life brings us.

We’ve come to the point in our journey where traveling without one another doesn’t feel right – figuratively and literally. A couple weeks ago I spent a few days in Wisconsin visiting dairies and cheese makers and seeing first-hand the pride Wisconsin has for their cheese. I returned vowing to stay off cheese for a few days as I had had more than my share. The plan was to stick to greens but within hours I was at the store buying cheese. In an attempt to share my trip with Gabe I came home with an aged, nutty, Gruyere-like cheese, a pungent blue and a creamy, mild semi-soft cheese.

Over a plate of charred vegetables slathered in smoky Romesco we settled back into our routine. He heard about my week and I his while ripping into a still steaming parchment pouch revealing a mild and flaky fish. With radiating wisps of lemon and herbs we dipped our forkfuls of fish into that same smoky sauce as conversation weaved between approving nods and appreciation for our dinner and the time together.

By the time dessert was served our exhaustion led us to the couch where we turned on a movie, enjoying the simplicity of being together while dipping our spoons into cool mascarpone whose edges submitted to the puddle of warm caramel. We shared the same bowl taking in a spoonful of the rich and sweet sauce in between bites of tart apple.

These dinners we can control. We can mark this time for us and fight against apathy and exhaustion carving out time in our day for one another. Making these decisions in the times we do have control makes us stronger to battle what we can’t control. For as long as this life allows we will travel together.


Cheese Plate

*I was sent to Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. The idea to put together this cheese plate not even a day after returning home from four days of eating cheese was purely my own. My opinons are also my own.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Emmi Roth Buttermilk Blue
Crave Brother’s Petit Freres
toasted almonds
Quince and Apple’s Fig and Black Tea Preserve

 

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Romesco // Whole Roasted Fish with Lemon and Parsley // Caramel with Mascarpone

Romesco
adapted from The NY Times

1 dried ancho chile

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup raw almonds

2 tablespoons hazelnuts or additional almonds

1 cup small cubes of stale sourdough bread

4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 jarred piquillo peppers, drained and chopped

1 medium ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 2/3 cup)

½ cup water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, sweet or hot, or to taste

salt
Place the dried chile in a bowl and cover with boiling water, weighing it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds, hazelnuts and bread cubes and stir until they start to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir until lightly browned. Add the piquillo peppers. Remove from heat.
Drain the chile, and remove stem and seeds. Chop the chile, add it to the pan, heat and stir briefly. Add the tomato, stir and cook a minute or so until softened. Remove from heat.
Transfer to a food processor or a blender and pulse until a rough paste is formed. With the machine running, slowly pour in the water. Turn off the machine, add vinegar, lemon juice, paprika and salt, to taste, then pulse briefly to blend. You want the finished sauce to hold onto a bit of texture. If needed, you can pulse in a bit more water or olive oil.

 

Whole Roasted Fish with Lemon and Parsley

Beyond that recipe title there is little else I need to tell you about the preparation of this fish. I had the fish cleaned at the store then added lemon slices, salt, parsley and pepper to both the inside and outside of the fish. A couple good swaths of olive oil were poured over the top then the fish was wrapped in two layers of parchment, placed on a baking sheet and went into a 400°F oven until the internal temperature reached 135°F, which took about 25 minutes.

 

Caramel with Mascarpone

½ cup sugar

½ cup whole milk, warmed

¼ cup mascarpone (plus more for serving)

salt

 

In a medium saucepan add the sugar and turn the heat to medium high. The sugar will slowly begin to melt and caramelize. Use a clean spoon or spatula to move the sugar around to evenly caramelize. Once all the sugar has melted and the caramel is the color of deep copper turn off the heat and carefully pour in the warm milk. Please be so careful at this point as the caramel will bubble up vigorously. Stir to combine then add the mascarpone. If the caramel has seized simply turn the heat back on until the caramel melts into the milk. Add a pinch of salt.
Pour about ¼ cup of warm caramel into a small bowl or dish that has a scoop of mascarpone on the bottom. Serve immediately. Encourage your diners to dip their spoon into the mascarpone then into the caramel getting a balance of both tastes on the spoon. Serve with fresh apple slices.

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Chopped Apple Cake

Happiness is a Sunday with no plans. An early morning where the first few steps are taken towards the oven in order to pre-heat. And even though Ivy manages to put an entire tub of expensive face product in her hair and the boys spend all afternoon doing everything but cleaning their room, Sunday still delights.

I linger in the kitchen, make plans to read a new book, and mix together a few ingredients to make a simple apple “bread” from a recipe card tucked inside my great-grandmother’s recipe box.

Soon we’ll gather around the table for an early dinner which, unlike weekday dinners, took longer than 20 minutes to prepare. We’ll then head to church then come home to do more of the same. All these things help to ease us into the weekdays. Today we linger. Today we’ll move a bit more slowly and grasp the fading moments of the weekend. Monday brings routine, early mornings and work but we won’t think about that yet. For now Sunday is here, dinner is almost ready and there are a few more slices of grandma’s apple bread. I do so hope your Sunday was as restful as ours.

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Chopped Apple Cake

My great grandmother referred to this as apple bread. I love that about her. I also love that nearly ninety percent of her recipes in her box are for baked goods. This cake is wonderfully simple and takes no more time to make than it does your oven to pre-heat. In the future I plan to experiment with some other flours and sugar but this morning I wanted this cake just as grandma enjoyed it.

1 ½ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup oil (I used canola and walnut)
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups peeled and chopped apples (about 2 medium)

 

Pre-heat your oven to 350*F. Butter a loaf pan and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the oil, eggs and vanilla and stir until combined. Fold in the apples. Scrape batter into the prepared loaf pan and baked until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, about 60 – 70 minutes.

Let cool 10 minutes before unmolding on to a wire rack. Let cool until just warm then slice.

 

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Baked Oatmeal with Roasted Pears

 

I love it when breakfast sort of disguises itself as dessert. Let’s talk pancakes for a moment. Serve those sweet fluffy, round cakes in the morning with a generous drizzle of maple syrup and you have breakfast . Serve something similar after dinner and it’s dessert. Let’s call them what they are – cake.

Our weekday mornings are harried with me quickly trying to stuff the kids with a bit of protein and them procrastinating over their shoes but the weekends are for lingering and indulging in the teetering line of breakfast dessert.

Fortunately our latest favorite is more breakfast than dessert as it’s fairly light on sugar, loaded with oats and topped with juicy pears whose natural sugars condense and caramelize in the hot oven. A sweet and nutty crumble nudges into the cracks and crisps in the oven creating a lovely crunch against the creamy oatmeal.

Weekends are for slowing down, taking a moment to catch your breath, feeling grateful and yes, maybe a bit of indulgence too. This recipe is one for the weekend.

 

 

 

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Baked Oatmeal with Roasted Pears

adapted from Super Natural Every Day
Serves 6

2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon chopped rosemary (optional but adds something real special)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla (or a vanilla bean, or both)
3 pears, cored and cut in half

Crumble Topping
½ cup walnuts (or any other nut you prefer)
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
pinch salt
1 Tablespoon brown sugar

 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Butter an 8×10-inch baking dish.

Combine oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary and salt. Stir together. Pour this mixture into the buttered dish.
In another bowl, combine the brown sugar, milk, egg, 2 Tablespoons melted butter and vanilla. Whisk together completely. Slowly pour this over the oats.
Tuck the pears into the oats.

For the crumble: Combine everything in a small bowl then sprinkle over the top of the oats and pears.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the center is cooked through and the crumble is deep golden and caramelized. Let cool slightly then serve. Serve with maple syrup, brown sugar and a bit more melted butter if you’d like.

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Dating My Husband: reconnecting

We were driving home late Saturday night from Portland, having just finished our week long road trip in Oregon and relished in the quiet as the kidlets slept in the back of the van.

“Did you have fun?” I asked Gabe. Which seems such a simple question and one that I probably should have asked along the way rather than waiting until we were driving home. I sort of feared his response. I had had a great time but it wasn’t until I thought to ask him that I realized I really had no idea how he was going to respond.

“I did.” He said.

Relief.

“I just don’t feel like we connected at all.” He finished.

Instantly defensiveness flooded through me and I really had no idea why. Perhaps I felt responsible for this trip and everyone’s enjoyment of it.
“Well, what did you expect? We were with three kids for the week. We never had a moment to ourselves.” I responded with a tone that simmered with frustration. If the person I love most in the world was discontent then suddenly my satisfaction was not so.

I had to stop a moment to see the kindness in his comment. It’s not that he didn’t have a great time – he assured me he did – he simply wanted to enjoy it with me. We missed the opportunity to connect and really share the experience together.

My focus was on surviving. This was the first time we had done a trip like this. I had visions of hours of shrills and shrieks in the car with nowhere to run. When that didn’t happen I was relieved. I had no idea how the kids would react to the mostly adult-focused events so when they enjoyed themselves AND we enjoyed ourselves it felt a great triumph.

At the end of the day I sighed a deep breath of relief. We survived the day. Then I went directly into planning the next day trying to make that one a success too.

I didn’t expect this trip to be one where Gabe and I would really connect and grow together. We’d find another time to do that.

This trip isn’t unlike how I’ve come to exist while raising three young kids. Each day, to some extent, feels like a victory when we’ve all made it. The kids are tucked in at the end of the day, the house is finally quiet – a success. Then it’s time to gear up for the next day.

Where will our marriage be with expectations like that? When will I make the time if I’m content with our misconnections. It’s not enough for me just to survive, I want us to thrive. I’ve always thought that and meant it. I can’t go long in our marriage with feeling as if Gabe and I are simply roommates and not teammates. That’s why it was so convicting when I realized that somehow I had become content with just surviving. Somehow I had decided that surviving was a success but in the case of marriage that’s a lie. Well, I suppose one could maintain a marriage by simply surviving but that’s never been enough me. It’s not what we want to model to our children and it’s not what we want for ourselves.

I’m so thankful for a husband to remind me to strive for more. And that he too desires connection. It’s a gift I can easily take for granted.
I can’t fix those misconnections from the trip but I can strive to not make that mistake again.

We gave ourselves a day to settle back into life at home. Then we pushed up our usual date night a couple days not wanting another minute to pass before we made intentional time to connect. We also pushed back our “post-vacation healthy eating plan” as I prepared Cider glazed pork chop using the cider we picked up in Oregon. There were pan-fried potatoes tossed in a bright, seedy mustard and sauteed spinach with plump golden raisins and walnuts.

That was all well and fine but it was the cocktail and dessert that stood out that evening.

Using my newly aquired Pear eau-de vie I made us a Pear sidecar. I proudly dotted the top of our cocktail with my own homemade bitters specifically crafted with this pear brandy in mind. I had made the bitters while in Portland taking a class from Mark Bitterman, which was part of Feast Portland. In class Mark had over 30 infusions available to us to create our own bitters. With prominent flavors of cinnamon, rosemary, juniper the bitters was a perfect match for the pear cocktail. A garnish of fresh rosemary helped to pull out the fragrant bitters.

For dessert a simple crisp was quickly thrown together using a few random ingredients I found in the cupboard. Sort of unintentionally it was made gluten-free with oats, almond meal, chopped hazelnuts and raw sugar. There was quite a bit of butter as it was for dessert after all and Gabe is right – it really is best with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

We shared it straight from the pan it was baked in, which to me is the perfect way to end the meal.

At the end of the date I mourned the missed opportunities for connecting with my husband during our trip but more importantly I celebrated our efforts to not let another day pass without sitting down together and lingering over a nice meal with the purpose of just being together. It’s so easy to make excuses and to put off our relationship but I also know that when we do put forth the effort we are rewarded with deeper intimacy and a thriving relationship that makes these busy and exhausting days so much more joyful. My husband not a mere roommate, he is my teammate, my best friend and my partner in whatever this life holds for us.

 

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Pear Sidecar // Apple Crisp

Pear Sidecar
adapted from oregonlive.com 
serves 1
2 oz Pear eau de vie
1 oz Cointreau
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
bitters (optional)

Combine the pear eau de vie, Cointreau and lemon juice and shake with ice. Pour into a martini glass or if you’re like us and don’t like to drink out of martini glasses a highball would do just fine. Add a few drops of bitters if desired and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. You can sugar the rim to add a touch more sweetness if you’d like.

 

Apple Crisp

I’ve been having great fun playing around with different grains and nut flours lately. This is a result of that. This crisp came together so quickly yet held a earthy, deep flavor that hid the ease of preparation. Feel free to play around with this simple recipe – add different spices, change up the nuts just as long as you agree to eat it straight from the pan with a loved one.


2 lbs apples peeled and roughly sliced
½ cup oats
¾ cup almond meal
¼ cup Turbinado sugar (raw sugar, regular sugar works fine too)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
5 Tablespoons butter, melted
pinch nutmeg
Place the apples in a baking dish (8” works well here). In a bowl combine the remaining ingredients until well mixed. Add this mixture to the top of the apples and bake in a 375* oven until the top is deep golden and the apple juices are bubbling, about 45 – 60 minutes.
Let cool slightly then serve with vanilla ice cream.

 

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Let’s agree

The cup sat on the edge of the table in such a way that light flooded in from behind highlighting little peaks of the frothed leaf that sat suspended on the latte. I took its picture not because I was overwhelmed by its beauty or because I thought it’d make a compelling image but because I was procrastinating. I had gone there to write but found myself doing whatever I could to avoid facing the blank screen.

“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.”
― Michael Law

I don’t know who Michael Law is. I’ve never read any of his books. Truth be told I found this quote on GoodReads after doing a google search, “quotes on perfectionism”.

Regardless of where it came from he made the connection of perfectionism to fear that I was seeking for in my own understanding. I had always thought a perfectionist was one who was impeccable and tidy. I’m not those things, but I am often paralyzed by the fear of failed expectations. Those high expectations and fear of putting anything out into the world that doesn’t meet those expectations can often keep me from creating and that scares me most of all.

Can you do me a favor? Can we all agree that this space isn’t perfect? Nor should it be. That would help me out a lot.

In my last post I said that there is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone with great passion actually putting their dream into action. It’s the opposite of this that makes me terribly sad. When other creative types (of which I have many in my life) speak of their own insecurities and when I sense a paralysis in their creating process because of it, my heart breaks. I flood them with praise and nearly beg them to get out of their own head as it’s a waste of time and will do nothing except hinder their creativity. I realize the irony of this.

In the book of Ecclesiastes it talks about the problem of waiting on the perfect moment. If I wait until I’ve crafted the perfect blog post I will never hit “publish”. If I wait until I’m completely satisfied with my images I will never let them be seen. If I wait to share my food until it’s perfectly seasoned then I will never have the joy of sitting around the table with friends. If I wait on the perfect moment, I will spend forever waiting.

The recipe I have for you today can not and will not wait forever. Regardless of the fumbled words or the images I’m not completely satisfied with, I want you to have these cookies now.

The three o’clock urge for something sweet inspired this recipe. My sweet cravings inevitably lead to cookies – more specifically these cookies. But I feel that making the same thing repeatedly is a missed opportunity for something new. So I reworked the recipe, played around with flours, took out the eggs, added flax and tucked in a few new flavors. They may not be perfect, as nothing ever is, but they’re pretty darn close and that’s enough for me.

 

 

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Cherry, Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are a few ingredients listed below that may not be pantry staples but the extra trip to the store will be rewarded. These cookies were born out of a desire for cookies while also a desire to add a bit more intrigue and healthy bits to my sweet fix. And to be perfectly honest the reason why there are no eggs in this recipe is because I ran out of eggs at home but now I’m completely in love with flax so it all worked out.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup Turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw – you could also use demerara sugar)
1 teaspoon instant espresso
1 Tablespoon ground flax seeds (I used whole flax seeds that I ground in my spice grinder).
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup almond meal, toasted (350* for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden)
¾ cup white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup dried cherries
1 cup chopped dark chocolate (I used Theo’s 70% with cocoa nibs that they had sent me recently – you can add a couple tablespoons cocoa nibs for a bit of earthy crunch if you’d like).

Pre-heat your oven to 350*.
Combine the flax and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Cream the butter and the sugar until smooth and light in color. Stir in the espresso powder. Add the flax mixture along with the vanilla extract. Stir until well combined.
In a separate bowl whisk together the toasted almond meal, flour, baking soda and salt. Add this to the wet ingredients. Just before the mixture all comes together add the dried cherries and chocolate. Stir until well combined.
Bake at 350* for 12 to 15 minutes or until just golden around the edges and the center still unset. Cool on a wire rack.

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Travel: Oregon

Let’s start this post with a bit of a disclaimer (or two). We took a little trip around Oregon recently which was sponsored by Travel Oregon. They didn’t ask me to write this post but I am doing so because I’m far too excited not to share some of these highlights with you. Disclaimer two: This post is epically long and yet doesn’t begin to cover everything we experienced during that week. You’ll notice in posts to come that Oregon has inspired many new tastes, new ingredients and new recipes. This is only the beginning, albeit a very long beginning – good luck getting through it all. And as always, thanks for being here.

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We did it. Five of us in one van making our way across two states – a road trip. Gabe and I have always talked about taking our family on a road trip. We have glamorized life on the road. Visions of roads shaded by towering trees snaking along rivers and canyons. We’d make stops to allow the kids to stretch their legs, take a quick family photo, eat at an unknown place that would forever make it’s mark in our memory for its unexpected charm and delicious food. And then reality would remind us that even one hour in the car with three little ones can leave everyone in tears. We would quickly make some excuse for why it wouldn’t work, the logistics would bog us down and we’d forever be caught in this – “yeah, that’d be nice but it’s never going to happen.”

And then we got a very generous offer to tour Oregon for a week with Travel Oregon. The logistics were worked out, the plan was made and we adjusted our schedules to actually do it. There were still moments of fear – “How would the kids do in the car for that long? Would we enjoy any of it?”

I am thrilled to report that we did it, we loved it and we survived.

The trip had us tasting wine, touring breweries and roaming through orchards. Each place provided a spot for the kids to expend built up energy and I took great joy seeing my kids chasing one another through orchards and picnicking next to trellised rows of plump grapes.

I think my father-in-law says it best – vacations with kids are not for relaxing, they are for building memories. Having those expectations have helped me to really enjoy our family trips and not to be too selfish with my time.

There were plenty of times when I was frustrated with their lack of appreciation and patience. Quite often they were more content to return to the van so they could play their games than listen to someone explain the process of apple to hard cider. And they failed to see the splendor of the enormous,  nearly 100 year old beams that supported the lodge we were staying in – kids these day, geesh. But I was often shaken out of my foul moods by their joy in the simple things – a hotel bed to jump on, a pet fish to care for, a ball partnered with a patch of grass and a cool glass of root beer.

What thrills me the most is that we did it and now my mind is reeling with the possibilities of where to go next.

I’m sharing some of my favorite views of the trip. We’ve been to Oregon countless times but on this particular trip, Oregon stole my heart. Let’s just say when we came home there may have been a few Portland real estate searches (don’t panic Mom, I’m only partially serious).

Blue Mountain Cider Company

Watermill Winery

We arrived in Pendelton on Sunday then woke up bright and early for a quick drive to Milton-Freewater. I sat contentedly staring out the window as the subtle rolling hills practically glowed of gold in the sun. It’s a far cry from the green and trees that I’ve grown accustomed to on my drives.

We were given an extensive tour at the Blue Mountain Cider Company seeing the entire process of apple to hard cider. The kids were thrilled by the apples that accompanied the tour although Ivy was most taken by the cat she found at the orchard.

Petit Noirs

In such a small town I was surprised (and thrilled) to find Petit Noirs. A small, family run shop specializing in handmade chocolates. Each flavor thrilled and many touted the bounty that surrounds the area – Pendelton Whiskey Praline?! Yes.

Be sure to try the Parisian – my favorite with the perfect bit of rose and orange blossom blended with dark chocolate. And don’t go home without a few nougats in your pocket. I’ll report back later on the Cherry Chocolate Merlot Marmelade but for now I will continue to hoard it and take great joy just knowing it sits in my cupboard.

I could have stayed in this space for hours, lingering among the chocolates, nougat, chocolate marmelades and talking with Lan as her passion for the craft was intoxicating.

Hood River was our next stop and the one that had us asking ourselves, “Could we live here?” What’s not to love about a town directly on a river, a crystal clear view of Mt. Hood and countless breweries?

Our favorite stop in Hood River was at the Pfriem Family Brewers. They opened their doors for us warmly and we stayed for hours. We watched Josh (owner and head brewer) craft a fresh batch before we sat with he and his family over a bountiful meal that included plates piled high with various pickles, mussels, frites, and towering onion rings with aioli.

The food and the beers both have Belgium on the mind as Josh is heavily influenced by the country but with his vast experience in brewing, Josh manages to put his own stamp on each of his beers. The beers are rich in flavor with some hinting at cardamom and  deep floral hop flavors that stays true to the Northwest.

Our time at Pfriem showed me the importance of this trip and the great joy and responsibility of telling the stories of those we met along the way. Gabe and I were both blown away by their passion and were inspired by seeing this family taking a leap and making their dreams a reality. They’ve invested thousands of hours into the beer, the food, the space while raising two young children – a task I know is difficult in and of itself. It takes an incredible amount of passion for the craft to do such a thing and I find nothing more inspiring than watching others take so much pride in their work. They have much to be proud of as their beers are among the best I’ve tasted.

All of the people we met on this trip are striving to put their product out into the world – to share a taste, their joy, their lives. With many of our stops I was surprised to find the operations much smaller than I had envisioned. These are few people doing great work with local ingredients crafted expertly. I felt so honored to have met everyone I did and as I said before, it is a joy to be able to tell you all about them.

The Pfriem family touts this message; “Proudly Crafted, Humbly Offered”. Since reading that on the back of my glass while enjoying the Belgian Strong Blonde, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. This is how I want to live – striving to create something with great passion and pride and to be able to humbly share it without seeking the glory for myself but allowing the work to reflect something greater.

I can think of no better way of describing Josh and his family. He spoke with great experience, passion and care about the beer, the food and their newly opened space but he didn’t try to sell us on the beer, he simply served it to us. The beer sold itself.

 

McCurdy Orchards

Clear Creek Distillery

Mt. Hood Adventure

We left Hood River to head into the mountains. Along the way we made several stops along the Fruit Loop alternating our pit stops between wineries and orchards.

Our first stop was at McCurdy Orchards where they painstakingly grow pears and apples in bottles to be bathed in Pear eau-de-vie and Apple Brandy. Each bottle is carefully slipped onto a young fruit and suspended with twine from branches above and below the bottle. The trees are littered with hanging bottles gleaming in the sun.

By the late afternoon we found ourselves near the top of Mt. Hood and checked into Timberline Lodge – a historic lodge, crafted by artisans in 1938 under the WPA (Works Progress Administration) established by Franklin Roosevelt. Gabe and I marveled at the massive beams supporting this towering lodge and hunted for the many intricate carvings found throughout. Walking around the lodge you can’t help but think about who all has stayed there in ist vibrant history and recall frightening scenes from The Shining as it was here that much of the exterior of that eery movie was filmed (eery is an understatement – I still have nightmares. REDRUM. Let’s move 0n).

The kids were so excited to follow one of the many paths right outside of the lodge. They spotted snow and didn’t want to stop until their little fingers dipped into the icy mash. I led them to snow and was rewarded with an onslaught of snowballs thrown my back. No respect I tell you.

We left the lodge in the morning seeking a bit of an adventure with Greg, our guide. You see, I have this sort of dream that our family would forage together. That we’d spend our weekends camping along the river, wondering through the woods and cooking a feast over a fire with our findings. The thing is that in order to become this sort of family we must do it. We don’t do it. But we tested the waters on this trip as we were led on a bit of a wander through the woods. We saw salmon flipping through the river having just returned from the ocean. We spotted and snacked on Huckleberries and learned Oregon’s state flower produces a deeply purple berry, called an Oregon grape. We snacked on those too along the trail. My vision of our foraging clan just may come to fruition as the kids loved the hike, albeit brief.

From there we made our way to Portland where we were warmly welcomed at Hotel Monaco. The kids were greeted with some new stuffed animal friends and a goldfish to care for while we were there.

I spent the next few days enjoying all the festivities around Feast Portland and drank far too much coffee – Portland, you know good coffee. Also, did I ever tell you about the time I made bitters with Mark Bitterman? More on that soon.

And now you see why we’ve been checking out Oregon real estate.

Thanks so much to Travel Oregon for the great trip and for everyone we met along the way – your stories, your products and your passion has forever made our lives richer. Thank you.

 

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Creamy Parsley Pesto

Last year it was sage, this year parsley. In my small, yet efficient garden I allowed two parsley plants to go to seed at the end of last season. While I was trying to keep up with the sage by smashing it into an aromatic pesto and tucking it into aioli, the parsley was dropping its seeds and nestling them into the dirt. Those seeds slept through the Seattle gray spell then surprised me with their abundance this summer. I have parsley planted in both vegetable beds. It’s lining the path leading to our house and circling the base of our columnar apple trees (all two of them). You need parsley? You come to me as I have more than I know what to do with. I can’t even begin to imagine what next year’s harvest will be as I can’t bring myself to rip it out now knowing how hearty and prolific it is.

The thing is, in my family I’m the only one who likes the stuff. The kids run away from anything green, unless it comes on a stick and makes their mouths pucker with sweetness. And my husband graciously reminds me that he’s not much of a fan. But here’s the thing; I’m the cook in the family and there’s a yard full of parsley so I made pesto. Without having to put it on a stick the kids ate it quite happily and at the end of the meal I had to point out just how much parsley Gabe ate without complaining.

I’d call that a success – plates were clean and slowly but surely my parsley glut is dwindling.

 

 

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Creamy Parsley Pesto

makes approximately 1 cup

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I loved this pesto. While I do love parsley I feared that the shear amount of it would be too much but somehow between the pistachios, lemon, Parmesan and soft creaminess that comes through with the yogurt I found it not overly floral or soapy which can sometimes accompany parsley. Instead the pesto was bright, rich and perfect when folded into a warm bowl of nutty farro. Of course you don’t have to use it with farro. I can imagine on a sandwich, as a vegetable dip, folded into pasta or the topping to a seared steak or roasted chicken would all be lovely as well.

½ cup roasted pistachios (roast in a 350* oven for about 10 minutes or until fragrant)
1 ½ – 2 cups Italian parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
a hearty squeeze of lemon juice (approximately 1 Tablespoon)
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
2 Tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
salt

In a mortar and pestle or a food processor add the pistachios, parsley and garlic. Pulse until finely chopped. Scrape the side of the bowl then drizzle in the oil and lemon juice while the machine is running. Add the remaining ingredients. Taste and add salt to your desire.

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Cornmeal cake with blueberries and maple whipped cream

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
― Epicurus

My tendency is to live from one project to the next, marking my life with goals, successes and the trying process of reaching those goals. Ambition in and of itself is not bad but what I find is that the constant desire to want something that I don’t yet have robs me of truly enjoying what I have now.

Recently I watched the documentary entitled, Happy. It looks at various cultures around the world and how happy they are. I’m not certain how one can measure happiness but as the images of dancing villagers in a remote tribe, a rickshaw driver in India who has “nothing” by our cultures standards, and a group of older women on a remote Japanese island who gather daily to converse, play games and build intricate origami creations it’s quite easy to see that these people are truly happy.

My first thought when watching the film is that true happiness comes when you concern yourself with the happiness of others. All of these people live in community. They support one another, celebrate with each other and carry one another’s burdens.

When a wave of sadness hits me I tend to analyze my emotions and my life extensively. “Why am I feeling this way? What do I need to change? What can I do to be happier?” Not bad questions but did you notice all those “I’s” in there? I make it all about me. Rarely do I reach out for help and more importantly, rarely do I concern myself with the happiness of others as much as I obsess about my own happiness.

Days after watching the movie and reflecting on my own need to change my attitude and my desire to find more joy in my days I realized that a change in attitude requires more gratitude. It helps that it rhymes.

When expressing gratitude my energy is spent focusing on all the good in my life. Making others happy by thanking them for their presence in my life inevitably fills me with great joy. Taking a moment at the end of a long day to think about what I have to be thankful for today can do nothing but alter my attitude for the better.

A big reason why I’m writing this here is to give myself some accountability. When I write it then I’m more likely to do it or keep doing it. And also I wanted to start the gratitude here with you people.

I’ve said it before but it bares repeating at least a few times a year – thank you. Thank you to those of you who come here and leave here silently. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and spend some time with me.

Thank you to those of who comment. I’m not very good at responding to comments but that is no reflection as to what they mean to me. I read every single one and I value their affirmation and encouragement more than these mere thanks can express.

Thank you to those who write personal emails. I’m humbled by your generosity and willingness to reach out and encourage me in such an incredibly powerful way.

Your continued support along this journey is often what powers these pages. You are what keeps me coming back here and propels me further.

Thank you is not enough but it’s a start and I feel better for having said it.

 

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Cornmeal Loaf Cake

adapted from Bon Appetit 2006

This hearty cake is perfect for sweet syrupy berries and softly sweet cream. It’s also perfect in the afternoon with a bit of tea or coffee. The crunch of cornmeal and sweetness of honey mark its uniqueness and leave you lingering in the kitchen slowly cutting away at the golden loaf. I find the texture improves after the first day. 

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter and flour 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan.
Whisk flour, cornmeal and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and honey a in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating constantly, then beat in vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl the mix again. Add dry ingredients and mix just to combine. Finishing mixing by hand as to ensure everything is well combined.. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake cake until brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Cool cake in pan 15 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.
Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap well once completely cool and store at room temperature.

Maple Whipped Cream

I don’t care for too sweet whipped cream but if you want more sweetness and more maple flavor feel free to add as much maple syrup as you’d like. I don’t imagine you needed my permission but it’s there no matter.

1 ½ cups heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup

Combine the cream and the syrup and whip until soft, billowy peaks form.

 

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Her Carnival Birthday

It may have been excessive. Perhaps a bit over the top, but that was sort of what I was going for.

Billowy balloons marked the entrance. Our guests, young and not so young, were greeted by our Lemonade stand offering a variety of cold beverages that refreshed on one of those perfect, late summer afternoons. Through the gate streamers flapped wildly in the warm wind overhead. In the center of it all was a table slathered with red and white striped tablecloth that held a myriad of kid’s dreams.

Still warm cotton candy was served on one side and popcorn on the other. In between it all were jars of jelly beans, ring pops, licorice rope and more. A gumball machine sat proudly upfront with a jar a pennies nestled up close so one would never have to dig through their own pockets.

During the rare moment that a child left that table they found their way towards the face painting area or the designated water gun zone. My sister-in-law provided balloon animals and we all proudly donned pointed party hats and red clown noses.
When the time came to eat something other than candy we headed upstairs. The white and orange striped cake sat in the middle of the long table. Chocolate cupcakes with an abundance of vanilla scented and lightly salted frosting sat next to the cake.

The food could not have been more simple. I supplied buns tucked inside vintage aluminum wrappers, and warm dogs. The guests were given a wide variety of toppings to create the hot dog of their dreams. Conversation buzzed around the table. Each asking for the advice of the other trying to take this opportunity to create the most perfect recipe. There was cream cheese, sharp cheddar spread, pickled peppers, salsa verde, fresh onions, peanut butter (apparently it was quite good), pepper jack cheese, fresh arugula, and of course – ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise. I went with my favorite combination of cream cheese, mustard, pickled peppers, fresh onions and arugula.

On the side there was platter of heirloom tomatoes with blue cheese dressing and nectarines topped with fresh basil, lemon zest, lemon juice and a drizzle of fruity olive oil.

We ate and enjoyed the excitement of the kids buzzing around us. My little birthday girl flitted around in her tutu dress and little painted whiskers on her cheek. Her joy was infectious.

It was a special day filled with more sugar than we see in a year, people we love most in the world, brightly colored signs, and towering cakes. In it all I wanted Ivy and all who were there to feel excessively loved and spoiled.

We’ve since returned back to our normal (with a few pieces of leftover party candy thrown in). A few wilted balloons still hang outside and evidence of the red and white cloth can be found in various corners of the house. I’m not quite ready for it to be over. In the midst of wanting to love on my daughter and my dear family and friends, I was the one who walked away feeling spoiled.

I’ve been reminded lately, quite painfully, that I am an imperfect person who can not be everything to my children. I have and will let them down. I’m sure I have and will inadvertently hurt them. I can not fulfill their every needs. But being their everything is not my job description.

Which is why I cling to those moments where I can bring them great joy and reflect a Love that is so much greater than my own. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading a book, making an odd shaped lego airplane with them or inviting them into the kitchen to help bake a pie. Or sometimes it’s throwing them a party that in my own way tells them they are loved, excessively.

 

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Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Chocolate Cake
from Gourmet 2010

This is an incredibly simple and delicious chocolate cake. I put a layer of warmed raspberry jam in between the layers as well as the Vanilla Bean Buttercream.
I always find that cakes taste better on the second day, particularly chocolate cake. The time allows for the flavors to mingle and the texture to soften a bit.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk

Pre-heat your overn to 350*
Butter and line a 9×2” pan (or 2 6” rounds) with parchment on the bottom. Butter the parchment as well.

In a bowl whisk together the dry ingredients.
Cream the softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffly in a stand mixer or by hand. Add the eggs one at a time combining well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.
Alternate the addition of milk and dry ingredients in three additions. Finish mixing by hand to ensure everything is well combined.
Bake at 350*F for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire wrack.

 

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

adapted from MarthaStewart.com


2 1/2 cups sugar
10 large egg whites
4 cups (8 sticks or 2 pounds) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
¼ – ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Combine the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place bowl over a simmering pot of water or, if you are brave you can carefully place the bowl directly on a medium-low gas flame. If you go that route just be sure to constantly whisk the eggs and move the bowl so as not to cook the whites.
Using a whisk beat the whites and sugar until the mixture is hot and feels perfectly smooth as the sugar will have dissolved.
Immediately move the bowl to the mixer and begin mixing on medium high. Add the vanilla bean and whip for 10 minutes until the meringue is cool and fluffy.
At this point add the butter about a tablespoon at a time, until all the butter has been incorporated.
There’s a magical point where the buttercream just pulls together. Before that point you may panic and think you have a curdled mess. Don’t give up hope. Just keep mixing and it will come together. Add the salt and taste and adjust as you please. The salt cuts the sweetness nicely but you don’t want so much that it tastes salty. The salt will continue to dissolve as the frosting sits so taste just before frosting the cake or cupcakes and add more at that point if you think it needs it.
Store at room temperature for no longer than a day. Can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for a month. Set out a room temperature for several hours. Re-whip if the buttercream has separated.

 

Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Dressing

 

Nectarines with Basil and Lemon

Really nothing needs to be done to a perfectly ripe nectarine or peach but if you’re in the mood to add a bit more interest I highly recommend these few ingredients. And it really is more a list of ingredients rather than a recipe as I sort of created in on a whim and failed to measure what I was doing.

4 – 5 ripe nectarines or peaches

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

squeeze of fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil (I threw a bit of Tarragon in there as well as I had an abundance of both in my garden).

 

Arrange the peaches or nectarines on a platter and top with the remaining ingredients.

 

Hot Dog Bar

Supply plenty of hot dogs and buns then let your creativity fly. In little dishes near the dogs I arranged:

- mustard

- ketchup

- bbq sauce

- pepper jack cheese

- salsa verde

- sharp cheddar spread

- cream cheese

- Mama Lil’s Pickled peppers

- fresh, diced onion

- arugula

- relish

- peanut butter

 

Other items I should have included:

- crisped bacon

- caramelized onions

- saurkraut

- kimchi

- whipped cream (just kidding, that’s gross – or is it?)

 

Sources:

Red/White Striped Tablecloth Roll 

Cupcake liners, popcorn bags, straws and hot dog wrappers - Party Delights (Etsy)

Face Paint Sticks

Balloons, Animal Masks, Clown Noses - Display & Costume

Hats – We made them by roughly following this tutorial.

Cake inspiration 

 

 

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Tomato Toast with Parmesan

 

Like the last dregs of sweet ice cream dripping down the sides of a freshly pressed waffle cone we are lapping up every last bit of Summer. It’s true that nearly an entire month remains of the season but this week school starts and with the oldest darting off to Kindergarten this year, it suddenly feels like Fall is near. While I have no problem with the Fall, in fact it is my favorite season for eating, cooking and reliving childhood giddiness around holidays, Summer still remains and there is much more eating to do. Like those last few lingering tastes off the cone, these remaining days are often the sweetest.

There are birthday cakes to be made, parties to plan and pointy, poof topped hats to don. There are toes to be dipped in and cooled by the sea, sand to be rinsed off said toes, and bbq’s to be lit. There are more meals to be eaten outdoors and a few more strawberries to pluck from our few still-producing plants.

There are tomatoes.

These are the tomato days. When the curtain of summer just starts to draw. When the days are for sleeveless tops and the evenings require light sweaters. Tomatoes have graciously been working all season to provide us with a fruit so sweet, very little needs to be done in order to prepare them for dinner. Considering all the other activities that surround these tomato days this is indeed a gift.

In an evening when we lingered out in the sun well into the dinner hour I searched for something to make and quick (can you tell I’m not much of a planner?). I reached for a few slices of thick-cut bread, brushed them with olive oil and placed on the grill pan. While the bread was getting branded with deep, smokey grill marks I grated (yes, grated – as you would cheese) a large tomato right into a bowl.

When the bread was sufficiently crisped on the outside with a bit of tenderness still remaining I rubbed the rough outer crumb with a garlic clove, topped with a couple spoonfuls of the fresh, grated tomato and finished of with a few curls of Parmesan. Dinner was prepared, served and devoured with still enough time to linger in the last few drips of the sun.



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Tomato Toast with Parmesan

serves 2-4
4 slices thick cut bread

2 Tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

1 medium tomato

Parmesan

 

Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Place on a hot grill pan (or an outdoor grill). Grill until dark char marks sear the bread while the inside still remains a bit soft. This should take about 3 minutes per side.

While the bread is still warm rub a garlic clove over the surface of both sides of the bread. Set aside.

Using the largest side on a box grater, grate the tomato into a bowl.

Spoon a hefty amount of the tomato onto each slice of the bread. The bread will soak up some of the juice – this is exactly what you want.

Finish with a few shavings of Parmesan. You can use a vegetable peeler to get long, beautiful strands of Parmesan.

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Dating My Husband: {Good} Coffee on the Beach

We were so young when we married. Wise enough to choose to spend the rest of our lives together but yet too young to know who we were. While that route may not be for everyone I am so glad that Gabe and I have grown up together.

I wasn’t into food when we met (which seems unimaginable to us now). In fact I was pursuing a career in medicine – a very short lived pursuit that eventually turned into an art degree with a teaching certification. Gabe was studying communication, looking ridiculously handsome in his navy peacoat, taking photos whenever he had the chance and not drinking coffee.

Twelve years later he’s drinking coffee, brewing it with over a half dozen methods, roasting his own beans and staying up till nearly dawn to clean and repair our burr grinder. He’s changed (although he still is quite handsome, more so I’d say).

In marriage it’s not an agreement to do life with the person they are on your wedding day, it’s a decision to marry who they are then, who they are now and who they will be. It is a commitment to love them through their growth and support their changes. Even if you marry at 40 you’re not going to be the same person at 60. Life has a way of shaping, refining and changing us. The hope is that you find someone who will continue to be at your side through it all.

My once coffee-loathing husband anticipated the opportunity for us to steal a moment alone on the beach during our recent vacation. He envisioned us lingering over a great cup of coffee while the gentle waves lapped at our feet.

 

So with the proper equipment in hand and a mug of boiling water we set out towards the still beach once the kids had been quieted. I marveled at the scene. Who is this man who will now go through such lengths to have us enjoy great coffee in such a desolate (and quite romantic, mind you) setting? He’s my husband, whom I love more than when he didn’t drink coffee.

I realize coffee is a petty change in the vast ocean of changes that have occurred in either of us through these years but for me it stands in as a sort of symbol for the other ones – the much greater ones. As with the other changes I’ve loved watching this passion for coffee evolve. I’ve cherished the moments that I can support him in this growing interest and if it one day fades or grows even further, I’ll love him still. Probably more so, as hard as that is to imagine.

If any of you are interested here is a list of equipment needed if you too would like great coffee on the beach, in the woods – or anywhere for that matter.
Brewing system: Mypressi Twist – great espresso from a hand held machine. It uses Co2 cartridges.

Beans: Coava Kyochere – Portland, OR (I’ve mentioned Coava before – we’re fans)

Water carrying vessel and drinking cup : Stanley Outdoor Mug With Clip Grip

Grinder: Hario Coffee Hand Grinder Skerton
Thanks so much to Boone for joining us on our coffee date for the sake of taking many of these stunning images of the two of us.

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Sprouted Kitchen’s Greek grilled chicken with tzatziki

I checked the mailbox several times a day once Sara mentioned her book was in the mail. With every rumble of an engine that had the possibility of being a delivery truck I ran down the stairs hoping to greet the delivery man with book in hand. I was wrecked with jealousy when I saw the images of the book popping up in the hands of others when I had yet to receive mine. And then it came. I eagerly flipped through the pages with each more beautiful than the last. Instantly recipes were marked, pages were creased to hold their place and splatters dotted the page as they do with well-loved cookbooks.

While Sara and I have only met in person a few times over the course of one weekend, I consider her a dear friend. With regular pep talks over the phone or email, a dependable ear when I need to vent off some frustrated steam and the tear-filled eyes I had when seeing for the first time their new book, The Sprouted Kitchen, Sara is the very definition of a friend.

I couldn’t be more proud for the stunning book Sara and Hugh have created. The book is a beautiful tribute to nutritious, whole food with inventive recipes that leave me inspired and rapidly creating a grocery list.
This recipe was one of many that I marked through my first scan of the book’s pages. Regardless of the few ingredients that make up the list for this recipe the entire dish is loaded with fresh flavor and because of the few simple ingredients our dinner came together very quickly. My kids eagerly ripped at the tender and flavorful chicken continually asking for seconds, then thirds until nearly bones remained.

Thank you Sara and Hugh for continually inspiring us with incredible food, stunning images and your kindness that far extends beyond the screen.

 

Tzatziki
Sara says to avoid adding the lemon juice, salt and yogurt too far before serving as the cucumbers will release quite a bit of juice. But if you are serving this to a crowd, feel free to combine the cucumber, onion, garlic and herbs then refrigerate until ready to mix in the rest and serve with the chicken. 

2 English cucumber
¼ red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
sea salt and pepper

To make the tzatziki, slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds in the center. Slice each half lengthwise into four or five long sticks, then dice. You should have about 3 cups. In a mixing bowl, stir together the cucumbers, red onion, mint, dill, and garlic. Add the yogurt, lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste.
Serve a large scoop of the tzatziki along side the grilled chicken.

Tomato Salad with Mint
I had a couple pints of beautiful heirloom cherry tomatoes lying around so I made this quick salad using many of the same flavors as Sara. Had I had a bit of Feta in my fridge I would have added that as well.

2 – 3 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine everything in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

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Greek grilled chicken with tzatziki

adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods

Marinade
In the book Sara marinates and grills 4 boneless and skinless chicken breast. I have been on a whole-grilled chicken kick lately so I went that route. I made a bit more of the marinade and let it bathe in the herbal mix for several hours before grilling.

1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 whole chicken, backbone removed in order to lay flat on the grill

Mix all the ingredients together and toss with the chicken. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes or for several hours in the fridge.
* If using chicken breasts Sara says to pound them out to an even ½” thickness.

Once marinated grill over medium-high heat until cooked through or the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165* – 170*F. Let rest while you finish the tzatziki.

 

Tzatziki
Sara says to avoid adding the lemon juice, salt and yogurt too far before serving as the cucumbers will release quite a bit of juice. But if you are serving this to a crowd, feel free to combine the cucumber, onion, garlic and herbs then refrigerate until ready to mix in the rest and serve with the chicken. 

2 English cucumber
¼ red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
sea salt and pepper

To make the tzatziki, slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds in the center. Slice each half lengthwise into four or five long sticks, then dice. You should have about 3 cups. In a mixing bowl, stir together the cucumbers, red onion, mint, dill, and garlic. Add the yogurt, lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste.
Serve a large scoop of the tzatziki along side the grilled chicken.

Tomato Salad with Mint
I had a couple pints of beautiful heirloom cherry tomatoes lying around so I made this quick salad using many of the same flavors as Sara. Had I had a bit of Feta in my fridge I would have added that as well.

2 – 3 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine everything in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

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Julia’s Chicken Liver Mousse

“Cooking is not a particularly difficult art, and the more you cook and learn about cooking, the more sense it makes. But like any art it requires practice and experience. The most important ingredient you can bring to it is love of cooking for its own sake.”
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Of course I admire her food but it’s Julia Child’s presence in the kitchen and life that inspire me most. With grace and humility Julia danced around the stove fancifully with an obvious passion for what she was cooking. There is no hiding the inevitable mistakes and flops that happen when cooking and yet she reiterated that it’s what you do with those little mishaps that make a great cook. Never apologizing for them she moved on accepting the little slip up while not letting it affect the rest of the dish or her confidence.

I don’t claim to be a Julia expert but I am inspired by the image of her in my head that I’ve pieced together through my years of seeing her on TV, reading her books, cooking a bit of her food and learning about her career.

Julia’s passion for food and the career that was formed around that started later in life and was fueled by her genuine love of eating and cooking rather than a desire to be known. Julia’s excitement about food and life around food was and continues to be infectious. I can’t help but want to jump into my kitchen and start cooking every time I read her recipes, her words or watch her saute´ and roast on tv. As a young girl I eagerly sat in front of the tv while watching her baking series on PBS where she brought in dozens of talented bakers to join her in the kitchen. As the chefs were slicing, stirring, whipping and mixing a towering Julia stood at their side dipping her finger into everything in sight. Her passion outweighed her desire to keep up appearances as she couldn’t help but taste the food in all its various stages.

Julia continues to give me confidence in my own kitchen and inspires me to reach beyond my comfort which inturn makes me stronger and wiser. Most recently it was Julia who nudged me to step into the world of pates. In the last several years I’ve shed my childish disdain for the various animal parts that often make up pates. I now frequently order them in restaurants and speak about this as passionately as Julia would. But it wasn’t until last week when Julia held my hand in the kitchen, that I made my first Chicken Liver Mousse.

Throughout the entire process I was beaming with pride feeling as if I was crossing off an item on the imaginary culinary “must make” list. It’s not that the process was a challenge it’s just that I had deemed chicken liver mousse as food to order at a restaurant instead of making at home and didn’t believe I could create the mousse that I fawn over that is made by accomplished chefs.

That is exactly what an inspiring person does. They cause you to see things differently, give you the confidence that you need and push you to actually make it happen. They hold your hand up to a point then push you when you’re ready. In the end you walk away more courageous and more sure of yourself then before. And as with my case, you walk away with a buttery rich and lightly spiced pot of Chicken Liver Mousse topped with a sleek shiny cap of aspic and feeling even more grateful for the inspiring life of Julia Child.

 

 

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Chicken Liver Mousse

adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
makes about 2 cups

I served my mousse with cornichons, grainy mustard, pickled cherries , fennel and assorted crackers.

2 c. (about 1 lb) chicken livers
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 c. cognac
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. chopped, fresh thyme
1/2 c. melted unsalted butter
Kosher salt and pepper

Remove any greenish or blackish spots from the livers then cut into 1/2″ pieces.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a sauté pan until foam has subsided. Sauté livers with the shallots in butter for 2 to 3 minutes, until the livers are just stiffened, but still rosy inside. Remove any liquid then scrape into the blender jar.
Pour the cognac into the pan and boil it down rapidly until it has reduced to 3 tablespoons. Scrape it into the blender jar.
Add the cream and seasonings to the blender jar. Cover and blend at top speed for several seconds until the liver is a smooth paste.
Add the melted butter and blend several seconds more. Adjust seasoning.
Push the mousse through a fine sieve to remove any unwanted little bits.
Pack into the bowl or jar and chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Cognac Aspic
adapted from Smith & Ratliff

1/2 c. water, separated
1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. dry vermouth
2 tsp. cognac

Place 1/4 c. of cool water in a ramekin, sprinkle unflavored gelatin and let it stand for 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan heat vermouth and sugar over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
Heat the remaining ¼ cup of water and add to softened gelatin. Stir to dissolve. Add the gelatin mixture to the warm wine mixture and mix thoroughly.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add cognac. Let the warm mixture stand until it almost reaches room temperature.
Once it has cooled, pour over chilled mousse. Return the mousse to the fridge and chill until the gelée has set, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
If you wish to garnish the mousse with fresh herbs or herb blossoms gently press them into the mousse before topping with the aspic.

To learn more about Julia’s life read the new biography Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child

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fire and feast

I’ve fallen in love with a new way to cook. Well, let me clarify, it’s new to me.

Fire.

On our recent trip to the San Juan Islands I prepared a feast laced with Moroccan flavors almost entirely over an open flame. Madrona trees with  vibrant red-orange trunks framed the view of the Pacific just beyond the roughly formed fire pit. Ragged rocks held a grill in place that cradled packages of carrots braising with oil and cumin. Flames crept through the grill grates and charred the exterior of dozens of peppers in shades of orange, red and green.

The smoke danced with me around the fire and infused it’s scent deep into my clothes. This simple way of cooking felt so perfect in the setting of the islands where the pace of life varies greatly from the often frantic routine of the city just on the other side of coast. I was bursting with a gleeful self-sufficient pride and felt somehow more connected to my food than ever.

The marinated leg of lamb was placed on the grill and it seemed as if the flames were as hungry for it as I was. They lapped at the exterior, charring it in places while leaving the interior a tender medium rare.

Inside the fire-cooked food landed on platters and a few finishing touches were added masking a bit of the roughness and revealing a stunning feast.  A pleasant smokiness had permeated the meal reminding us all of the way in which it was cooked. I’ve said on many occasions that I could very easily be a vegetarian as so often it is the vegetables on the plate that have me going back for seconds and my meat portion is often left with many bites to spare. But when meat is mixed with smoke I go weak. One might even have to remind me to eat with a knife and fork as I instinctively feel the need to eat with my bare hands.

Such a simple thing – to cook over a fire. And I find it so funny that I think of it as being novel when in reality it’s the basis of all cooking. I’ve grown accustomed to my oven and my range that consists of four gas burners. So comfortable with it that a simple fire pit seems revolutionary. Remove the routine and get back to the basics and it’s a wonder what’s revealed. In the case of the fire it’s joy in simply cooking and finding flavors that satisfy a deep longing, one in which I hardly knew was there.

 

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Feast by the Fire

Grilled Yogurt-Marinated Leg of Lamb

This is a lamb recipe for non-lamb eaters. Tender and full of flavor. The overnight bath in spiced yogurt helps rid any gaminess and leaves a flavorful cut of meat throughout. The recipe comes from Bon Appetit and seeing as this was my first go at a leg of lamb I pretty much stuck to the recipe aside from the occasional extra clove of garlic here or there.

 

These next two recipes are adapted from Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou. It’s a stunning book filled with Moroccan flavors that are presented in modern and inventive ways.

 

Harissa
This is what I consider a kid-friendly Harissa. Lots of deep flavor but light on spice. If you want more heat add more dried chilis, keep the seeds in or add a hefty pinch of cayenne.

Makes about 2 3/4 cups

1 roasted red pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped
1 (14 ounce) can tomato puree,
3 cups cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 dried red chilies (soaked in boiling water until soft, seeds removed – or kept in for more spice)
½ tablespoon sweet paprika
½ tablespoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
15 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

Put all the ingredients except the olive oil in a large saucepan, and stir together. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a gentle simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the puree has thickened and reduced to 2 1/4 cups. Don’t let the heat go above a low simmer, and keep an eye on the mixture so it doesn’t burn.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the harissa to a blender, turn it on, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until smooth.
Store in the refrigerator in an airtight glass jar, with a film of the olive oil on top, for up to three months.

 

Brown Butter Farro

3 Tbsp kosher salt
2¼ cups faro, picked over and rinsed
1 cup finely diced red onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup brown butter* melted and still warm

*Brown butter is simply butter that is melted until the milk solids have caramelized. Remove butter from heat once butter smells nutty and you see golden bits on the bottom. It will continue to brown off heat.

In a large saucepan add the farro and enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the farro until tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Drain the farro in a large strainer, shaking the strainer to remove the excess water.

Meanwhile, put the onions and oil in a large saucepan and set over medium-high heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, decrease the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, or until the onions have softened and are slightly caramelized. Set aside.
When ready to serve combine the farro with the onions and brown butter. Taste the farro and season with salt if needed.

 

You’ll have to forgive the casualness of the next set of recipes. I can’t not share them with you but I failed to accurately record the measurements while in the throes of preparing this feast. Please use these as guidelines and inspiration.

 

Grilled Feta with Onion, Tomato and Herbs

Place a desired amount of feta on two layers of aluminum foil. Cover with a drizzle of olive oil, sliced red onion, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme and rosemary, salt, and preserved lemon (optional). Wrap tightly then place on a grill or over a fire for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve with oiled and grilled pita.

 

Grilled Pepper and Preserved Lemon Salad

Roast enough peppers (I used red and orange bell peppers as well as a couple poblanos) to yield roughly 3 cups that have be deseeded and sliced into rough ½” ribbons. Add to the peppers 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1-2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon, kosher salt, chopped cilantro and a healthy splash of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your desire.

 

Cumin Fire Roasted Carrots

each pouch serves 2-3 as a side

 

In each aluminum pouch add 5-7 peeled, whole carrots, a pinch of kosher salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of cumin seed. Wrap tightly in 2-3 layers of aluminum foil. Roast in a fire until carrots are tender. I roasted just off to the side of the fire and they took under and hour to roast.
Once roasted add carrots to a platter a drizzle with fresh lemon juice, more olive oil, a pinch of cinnamon and chopped flat-leaf parsley.

 

Fire Roasted Stone fruit with Cardamom and Dates

each pack of fruitserves 2-3

 

assorted stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums)
cardamom
dates
vanilla ice cream
orange blossom water (optional)

Halve and remove the pits from the fruit. Place roughly 2 cups of fruit on a sheet of aluminum. Add a handful of halved dates and sprinkle this mix with a pinch of ground cardamom. Wrap in two layers of aluminum and roast over a fire for about 30 minutes. I stopped roasted with I noticed some vibrant bubbling juices emerging from the pack.
Serve warm fruit over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle a bit more cardamom over the ice cream and add a drop or two of orange blossom water to the ice cream, if using.

*Thanks to my husband, Gabe, for taking many of images while I cooked his dinner.

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