Salty Sweet Life

Life Well-Seasoned

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Thanksgiving Dinner 2014: Top 5 Things I Learned in the Kitchen

Well, Thanksgiving 2014 has come and gone and I hope your holiday was as wonderful as you’d hoped it would be. Mine was fantastic! We had a group of about 10 people for dinner and more friends came later on for drinks and dessert. I can’t even believe that it’s already December, but before we hurl ourselves full force into Christmas mode, I wanted to share 5 things that I learned from this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

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1. Turkey Technique 101. There’s good way and there’s an even better way.

I made two turkeys this year and both employed techniques that I hadn’t used before.  I had intended to make two small  12-14 pound turkeys using the Spatchcocked Turkey with Anise and Orange recipe on the November cover of Bon Appétit Magazine. But, being thrifty, I really tried to get a deal on those two turkeys without having to drive all over town. Turns out this is an impossibility. Yes, you can get great deals on turkeys, but you will have to drive all over town. There’s a long and boring story of how I ended up with a 17 pound turkey and a 13 pound turkey but, I’ll spare you the details.

This year, I decided to use a dry brine for both birds. This is new for me, as I normally season the turkey right before putting it in the oven. With a dry brine, you coat the turkey with the seasoning the night before and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. Then, rinse the turkey and pat it dry before roasting it. The dry brine helps season the turkey, and the salt tightens the skin, resulting in a very juicy and tender turkey.  It’s a great technique if you don’t want to deal with the complications and refrigerator space requirements of a wet brine.

For the large turkey, I used this mixture:

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, minced

I roasted the large turkey using a basting blanket. I have never used this technique before, but a friend of mine does this and I remembered drooling over the photos of her beautiful bird last year and I wanted to give it a try.

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Turkey cooking under a basting blanket.

Before placing the turkey in the oven, I made a basting mixture by combined a stick of butter, some turkey stock, white wine and chopped herbs in a saucepan. I dipped a cheesecloth in this mixture and draped it over the bird. I basted the turkey every half hour, finally removing the cheesecloth for the last 15 minutes to brown the turkey.

On the upside, the turkey was beautiful. Like, magazine cover beautiful. The meat was moist, rich and flavorful, but, I didn’t like the skin as much, because it was rather chewy. I’m not sure if the basting blanket was the culprit here but if I had to do it all again, I’d stick to my normal turkey roasting technique of roasting uncovered at a high temperature for 30 minutes and then slow roasting for the remainder of the time. However, after making the Spatchcocked Turkey with Anise and Orange, I may abandon the traditional turkey method for good!turkey-2

This recipe was absolutely stellar! Hands down, this turkey was far superior in flavor, texture and moisture and what’s most amazing is that it took exactly 90 minutes to cook! The skin was golden and crispy and spatchcocking eliminates the problem of the breast meat drying out before the dark meat has a chance to cook thoroughly. It only took a little bit of effort to remove the backbone with kitchen shears. Here’s a quick tutorial of how to do it with a whole chicken.

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Spatchcocked Turkey

I was a little bit nervous about using aniseed because that can be a very powerful spice, but it paired beautifully with the orange-y notes in the spice rub and was a unique and fabulous twist to our traditional turkey! Mom’s first words upon tasting it: “This turkey tastes like sausage!” I don’t know about you, but in my book, that is a complement! I would wholeheartedly recommend that you try spatchcocking a turkey when you have the opportunity–plus you get to say “spatchcock” which is probably the best word, ever.

2. The Zen of following a Recipe

This year, I decided to make several dishes from the November issue of Bon Appétit Magazine. I made the Extra Buttery Mashed Potatoes and even bought a potato ricer for the task. The potatoes were creamy, fluffy and oh, so very buttery! The potato ricer was kind of a revelation as well. I prefer to keep one-task kitchen tools to a minimum, but I’ll make an exception for this one because it really did make the potatoes creamy without the gumminess that can come from over-mashing potatoes. I also made this rye bread, kale and mushroom stuffing. I’ll admit, this was my first time using real bread that I cubed and dried and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to commercially bagged stuffing. There’s just so much more texture and flavor. What I also learned was that it is both freeing and comforting to follow a good recipe, step by step.  I am always second guessing recipes, but it was fun to actually force myself to follow a recipe to the letter (except for the stuffing recipe, I made a few minor changes to it).

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The makings of Rye, Kale and Mushroom Stuffing

3. Use your BBQ grill as a warmer

I’m not sure why I never thought of doing this before, but you know how it is in that last hour when the turkey has cooled but there’s no more room in the oven to keep it warm? If you have a gas or propane grill, it can be your best friend at this crucial moment. I lit one burner on low heat and placed the platters of carved turkey (covered in foil) on the grill. It warmed the turkey without drying it out and everything was piping hot at serving time. Just remember not to place the platters directly over the flame.

4. Make turkey stock in the crockpot

My mother always taught me that the first task on Thanksgiving morning is making the turkey stock from the turkey neck, giblets, carrots, celery, onions, salt and pepper. I’ve always done this on the stove top and while it has always worked, it does take up valuable real estate. Meanwhile, my trusty crockpot just sat in the pantry unused until it was called upon to keep the mashed potatoes warm. Well, this year, a little light bulb went off in my head and I made the stock during the night in the crockpot. I woke up to a pot of rich, golden turkey broth that I used for the stuffing and the gravy. Also, after every Thanksgiving dinner, I wrap the turkey carcass in foil and put it in the freezer to make more stock in the future. The only problem with this is that it takes up a lot of room in the freezer. What’s more, by the time I need to make stock, the carcass is frozen solid and won’t fit into my pot, which leads me to my next tip: after Thanksgiving dinner is over, put the turkey carcass into the crockpot and make another batch of stock overnight! Again, why have I never thought of doing this before? Now I have 3 quarts of homemade turkey stock in my freezer that’s ready go when it’s time to make soup!

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This isn’t pretty, but it’s hard to pretty up a carcass.

5. Task Your Family and Friends with Taking Photos

We are incapable of taking pictures during a party. Notice that the photos above were mostly iPhone photos taken before the food was finished? Between the cooking and taking care of our guests, we were lucky that we managed to take a photo of the turkey. From here on, I’m tasking my guests with taking photos of the food, because apparently, we just cannot. So, my friends, if you are reading this and you’re coming to my house for dinner, you’re the photographers! I’ll set up a hashtag.

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I hope these little tips and tricks were helpful! Did you learn any new tricks this year? I’d love to know in the comments.

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How to Succeed at Thanksgiving – Fish House Punch

The Thanksgiving dinner of my fantasies always begins with me wearing a string of pearls and freshly pressed apron, holding aloft a beautifully bronzed roasted turkey, glistening and golden from the oven in all its glory for all to see. My adoring family members’ faces are lit by flickering candlelight and they are hungry and beaming and admiring the gorgeous bird. I cut into the bird and it is succulent and juicy and perfect. All of the side dishes have come out of the oven at just the right time. The vegetables are colorful. Everything looks like a spread in Bon Appétit.  Can you just see it? Isn’t it beautiful?

Insert needle-scratch on a record…this is what Thanksgiving really looks like: I have bags under my eyes because I’ve been cooking non-stop for two days. The turkey, does come out of the oven beautiful and bronzed, however upon carving, I realize the breast meat is perfect and the dark meat hasn’t cooked thoroughly–thank you, weirdly calibrated convection setting. I’ve forgotten about the rolls in the oven and they have…caramelized. My brother is dressed in his finest Megadeth t-shirt and is poking my other brother in the head. My mother is smiling and shaking her head because she’s thinking that the turkey would have been perfect had I just cooked it in that roasting bag. It is then that I realize I’ve forgotten to shower.

Thanksgiving for me always teeters on the brink of crazy. But at the same time, it is my all-time favorite holiday. It exhausts me, yet, I am reminded that this is why I cook in the first place. Thanksgiving is the first complex dinner that my mother taught me to make from scratch. Thanksgiving is my Super Bowl. It’s the day that I try to push myself a little, no, a lot harder in the kitchen than usual. There’s the push and pull of tradition versus my need to experiment and make something new. My brothers will complain and wonder why I didn’t make the stuffing the way mom always made it. They will wonder why on earth I decided to make “corn pudding”. I will wonder what made me think that I could bake bread from scratch. Sure, I could roast the turkey inside that plastic bag and it probably would be perfect, but what’s the fun in that? Honestly, I think I thrive on the wild thrill that things may go horribly wrong. Perhaps this is why I enjoy roller coasters so much…pondering this. Sometimes dinner is a win, sometimes not, but it is always a success, because everyone gives thanks and every one leaves happy and full–oh, so very full!

So here’s my confession. No matter how well I plan; despite using all the advice and tips that columnists and bloggers give on how to make Thanksgiving effortless and sane, mine will never be that way. Because in that last hour, things go haywire.  At some point, I’m dashing around squealing “I’m in the weeds!” to borrow from Top Chef-speak. And when all is said and done, I’m going to need a drink. My best-laid plans sometimes fall apart. And when things fall apart, there is always Fish House Punch.

Fish House Punch - Salty Sweet Life

If there’s one thing I know about throwing a party, is that a good house cocktail will cover over a multitude of snafus and ease my frazzled Thanksgiving nerves. You can mix up this punch early in the morning and chill it in the refrigerator. Typically, an ice ring is a nice touch, but lately I’ve been making it lazy-girl style and adding large ice cubes to the punch bowl just prior to serving.  A holiday punch almost as old as Thanksgiving itself, Fish House Punch makes everything better. First of all, who doesn’t love punch? It’s boozy. It’s refreshing. Did I mention the boozy part? I served this punch last year and I don’t think I’ve ever had such a wonderful time at my own party! It’s a keeper and you should make it–it just might be the glue that holds it all together.

Fish House Punch

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Don’t let the term “punch” fool you–this is not your typical sweet, frothy punch. It packs a wollop from the heady mix of Jamaican Rum and Cognac. It’s so mellow, though, that you won’t even notice the alcohol…and that’s why it’s dangerous! Traditionally it was often diluted with black tea, but we like it full-strength here, because that’s just how we roll!

Source: Epicurious via Alexandra’s Kitchen

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 3 1/2 Cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (6-8 large lemons)
  • 1 750 ml bottle of Jamaican Amber Rum –I used Appleton Special Jamaican Rum
  • 1 1/2 Cup Cognac — I used Raynal Brandy VSOP
  • 1/4 cup Peach brandy– I used peach liqueur
  • lemon slices for garnish
  1. Add the water to a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat (there is no need to thoroughly heat this mixture, just heat enough to dissolve the sugar).
  2. In a punch bowl or large pitcher, combine the rum, lemon juice, cognac, peach brandy and the sugar-water. Stir and refrigerate for three hours or at least one hour at a minimum. Prior to serving, add an ice ring or a large ice block to the punch bowl, or if you have enough to do and didn’t make an ice ring, just add some large ice cubes to the bowl. Garnish with fresh lemon slices.

*Note: Last year, we ran out of refrigerator space to chill the punch, so we improvised and set the punch bowl in a cooler filled with bags of ice. Worked like a charm.

Fish House Punch - Salty Sweet Life

Fish House Punch - Salty Sweet Life

 

 

Portland Zoo


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Portland in October, My first Airbnb Experience

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If you have been following me on Instagram then you probably know that last month I was once again in my happy place–Portland, Oregon! The goal: to see fall colors, rain and a Ducks game. I accomplished all of these goals and more, but the one thing that stood out about this trip was my experience with Airbnb. I have not been able to stop talking about Airbnb since we booked this trip!

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I’ve been to Portland numerous times always staying in the downtown area, right in the thick of things. This time, however, I wanted to know how the locals lived so on a friend’s recommendation, I booked a basement apartment through Airbnb. I cannot recommend Airbnb enough–the process was simple and I was able to chat with the host several times before booking! The apartment was more fabulous in person than it was in the photographs (when does that ever happen??)! It was spacious, super clean, had a fully equipped kitchen and as an added bonus, the host family had an amazing garden and a chicken coop with about 14 chickens! The host left fresh eggs for our breakfast! It was so incredible and I am now obsessed with chickens!

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The house where we stayed.

chickengardenThese ladies were kind enough to lay some gorgeous eggs for us! They were so rich and flavorful! Did you know that fresh eggs don’t need to be refrigerated? As long as they are unwashed, eggs have a natural coating or “bloom” that protects them from contaminants. As our host instructed, I simply washed the eggs well prior to using them. I definitely foresee backyard chickens in my future…

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There were even ducks in the backyard!

Our host’s garden was really special. What appeared to be a tumble of foliage was really a well-planned system where vegetables were interplanted with flowers. The flowers attract pollinators, who in turn pollinate the vegetables.

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A spider hides in the kale, waiting for its next meal.

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Even in October, there were lots of tomatoes on the vine.

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The apartment was steps away from public transit and getting downtown was an easy 30 minute bus ride. The neighborhood was called Mt. Tabor and it was  teeming with great bars, bookstores and coffee shops.

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The Victory Bar was perhaps our favorite new discovery of this trip! The cocktails were unpretentious and well-balanced, but don’t leave without trying the Pork Belly Spatzle!

On our last morning in Portland, we walked to Tabor Bread and had an array of toast with peanut butter and carrot ginger jam. It was a perfect end to our trip–freshly baked bread and watching the locals as they went about their Sunday.

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I’ve said before that I leave a little piece of my heart behind every time I leave Portland, well, this time it was more like a chunk! I’m already planning my next visit and I can honestly say that staying in a private home was the best possible experience.  I’ll definitely do it again! Have you ever booked through a vacation rental site like Airbnb? What was your experience like?

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Smoky Chipotle Vegan Chili with Cashew Cream

Smoky Chipotle Vegan Chili with Cashew Cream - Salty Sweet Life

If you work in an office, chances are at some point, you will be asked to contribute to The Office Potluck and if you work in my office, you will probably be asked to do this a LOT. My office loves a potluck–birthdays, holidays, you name it and we throw a potluck for it! I’ve noticed a few things to be true for every single one of them:

  • There has to be fried chicken. Seriously, if there is no fried chicken, people might just opt out of the potluck entirely.
  • Greg must bring his famous Asian chicken salad. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that the office staff will not accept any other dish from him, but at least he doesn’t have to wonder what he’s bringing to the potluck.
  • The vegetarians in the office get stuck with the sad, bagged salad and limp veggies from the veggie tray picked up in a rush that morning on the way to the office. Really, folks, nobody likes those veggie trays. Don’t buy ‘em!

So, for the last day of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I swore to become more aware of the vegetarians and vegans in the office and made something special for them. Chef Chad Sarno’s Smoky Veggie Chili perfectly fit the bill and to my surprise, it was a big hit with the omnivores as well! This chili has a perfect amount of heat and is so full of vegetables that the meat isn’t missed at all! Chopping lots of vegetables always takes a bit of time, but once the initial preparation is out of the way, the chili comes together very quickly. I was lucky enough to have some hatch chiles in the freezer that I added to the recipe, but of course that is completely optional. The chili is fantastic the first day that it’s made, but if you can, make it a day ahead. You’ll find that the flavors really come together after a night in the refrigerator!

Smoky Chipotle Vegan Chili

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 1 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Recipe lightly adapted from Chad Sarno’s Smoky Veggie Chili

  • 1 medium sweet or white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 Cups vegetable stock (divided)
  • 1 large sweet potato, cubed
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 roasted hatch chiles, chopped (optional)
  • 1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes (I used Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes)
  • 1-15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1-151/2 ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Ancho chili powder (If you don’t have Ancho chili powder, simply use 1 tablespoon of regular chili powder)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 t/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1-3 chipotle chilis in adobo (depending on how much heat you prefer), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Green onion, sliced
  • kosher salt
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large soup pot. Saute the onion and garlic until they become translucent and begin to brown. Add 1/2 cup of the vegetable stock to deglaze the pan.
  2. Add the chili powders, cumin, smoked paprika, chopped chipotles to the pot and stir well to completely coat the onion in the spices. Cook for about 1 minute until the spices become fragrant. Add the cubed sweet potato and the remaining 2 cups of vegetable stock to the pot and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes until the potatoes start to become tender.
  3. Pour the canned tomatoes into a large bowl and crush them with your hands, discarding any tough bits. Pour the crushed tomatoes into the pot with the potatoes along with the zucchini, mushrooms and the rinsed canned beans. Season with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are tender.
  4. Add the chopped kale and cilantro to the pot and cook for an additional 5 minutes until the kale is wilted.
  5. Serve with chopped avocado, sliced green onion and dairy-free sour cream (recipe follows).

Smoky Chipotle Vegan Chili with Cashew Cream - Salty Sweet Life

Non-Dairy Sour Cream

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 2 hours to soak the cashews
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Chad Sarno

  • 1 cup cashews,
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • water
  1. In a medium bowl, soak the cashews in water for at least 2 hours.
  2. In a blender, add the soaked cashews and enough water to just cover them, the apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Blend on high speed until creamy

Smoky Chipotle Vegan Chili with Cashew Cream - Salty Sweet Life

Smoky Chipotle Vegan Chili with Cashew Cream - Salty Sweet Life

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Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette and My Favorite Ice Cream

 

Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette and McConnell's Ice Cream - Salty Sweet Life

My mother was not a cookie-and-cake baking mother, nor was ours a household where dessert was a normal part of our daily meals. So, as a result, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, except for one thing: ice cream. Ice cream is the one treat that stands out in my memory as my oldest food obsession. Who doesn’t remember hot summer days, ice cream trucks and drippy, sticky ice cream fingers? I just cannot resist ice cream and it’s the one treat that I can eat any day, at any time of the year, regardless of season.  And of course, the perfect delivery system for any ice cream is pie! Is there anything better than a slice of pie, still warm from the oven and topped with a fluffy scoop of rich, creamy, melting ice cream? I don’t think so!

But here’s the thing. I still have yet to bake an entire pie! The mere thought of baking a pie sends me into panic-mode because of one thing–pie crust. Surely, I’ve mentioned to you before that I am no expert when it comes to pastry crust, but I keep working on it and one day I will feel confident enough to make an entire pie. But, in the meantime, I will make galettes. If you’ve never made a galette, I am here to tell you that they are the best friend of the pie-phobic! Yes, it involves pie crust, but there’s no blind-baking, no crimping (which is great because my fingers refuse to crimp properly), no lattice work! Totally rustic, yet, so very pretty.  I may have told you in the past that I wouldn’t judge you if you used store-bought crust for this Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart, but in this case, I’m not going to suggest that shortcut, because you would miss out on the unique opportunity to flavor this crust with fresh thyme. You will be so sad if you miss that opportunity! Trust me, in a food processor, this crust comes together in a flash and if I can do it, you can do it! It is so worth it!

Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette and McConnell's Ice Cream - Salty Sweet Life

What I love most about this Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette is that it is a perfect combination of savory and sweet. If you’ve ever had a cheese plate that combines crisp pears with blue cheese, then you know exactly why this combination works!  There is very little added sugar–the pears are sweet enough on their own. A light glaze of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar gives them just a touch of balanced sweetness and a lovely sheen. I made this galette last year for Thanksgiving and it is a great alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie (although the Husband, who swears he could eat pumpkin pie on the daily would beg to differ on that one)!

Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette and McConnell's Ice Cream - Salty Sweet Life

Now, let me tell you about this amazing ice cream. Just so you know, this is not a sponsored post, but when I find something this awesome, I want to shout it from the rooftops! My good friend Lori Rice of Fake Food Free put McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream on my radar way back in February and by the beginning of the summer, I was thrilled to find it at my local grocery store! I immediately brought home a pint of “Double Peanut Butter Chip” because I knew that the Husband would flip out over that combination–he LOVES peanut butter and chocolate. One taste and we both fell in love–like an instant, deep, marriage-level-commitment love…with this ice cream! After that, I tried the “Eureka Lemon and Marionberry” and the “Turkish Coffee”–which were both beyond amazing. We’ve even gotten our friends hooked on it! In the freezer right now, we have about 5 different flavors of McConnell’s Ice Cream! Every night we allow ourselves one single scoop of ice cream so that we don’t eat the whole pint all at once! How’s that for self-restraint?

What I love most about McConnell’s is that they use local (based in Santa Barbara, California), sustainable and organic ingredients. No stabilizers, no preservatives.  Their ice cream can be found in California, Southern Nevada and Southern Utah and for those of you in the Las Vegas area, they can be found at Whole Foods Market and Vons. Check their location finder for additional locations. And of all the amazing flavor combinations they have, guess which one has become my absolute favorite? The simplest one of them all–“Sweet Cream”. The flavor is so pure and simple. It tastes like cream and eggs and sugar and it is the perfect foil for this galette. I can’t recommend it enough!

Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: moderately fussy
  • Print

Recipe inspired by: Desserts for Breakfast

Galette Dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks very cold butter cut into cubes
  • Ice water (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • heavy cream
  • turbinado (raw) sugar

Pear and Gorgonzola Filling:

  • 3 red pears, cores removed, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • Maple Syrup
  • 1 teaspoon good balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • lemon juice
  1. Combine the flour, salt and sugar and thyme in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse a few times to mix the dry ingredients. Add the very cold, cubed butter to the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is in pieces the size of peas. While continuing to pulse, slowly add ice water through the feed tube a little at a time. Open the lid of the food processor to test the dough. It should be crumbly, but should stick together when pressed between your fingers.  If it is still too dry, add a little more ice water through the feed tube and test again. Once it reaches the point where it’s moist enough to stick together and a dough begins to form, it is done.
  2. Remove the dough from the food processor and press into a ball. Because I made mini-galettes, I halved the dough and wrapped each half in plastic wrap. Press the dough into two round disks and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. If you are making one large galette, then there is no need to halve the dough. I made 3 mini-galettes out of one half and two out of the other. I found that the batch of two resulted in a more manageable (fumble fingers, here) and prettier galette. So, if you are not making one large galette, then 4 mini-galettes is a great alternative.
  3. While the dough chills, prepare the pears by simply cutting them into quarters, removing the core, then thinly slice.  Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice in order to keep them from turning brown. Roughly chop the walnuts and place them in a small bowl with one tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves. Drizzle the walnuts and thyme with a tablespoon of maple syrup and stir to combine.
  4. In another small bowl, combine one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar with two tablespoons of maple syrup to make a glaze.
  5. Once the dough has chilled, roll out into a circle to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the dough with the crumbled gorgonzola and half of the walnut and thyme mixture. Arrange the pear slices on top in a circular pattern, leaving at least a 1-2 inch border. Tuck the remaining walnuts and thyme among the pears.
  6. Gently fold the border of the dough over the filling and pinch the edges all around to seal. Brush the exposed edges with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes, if making mini-galettes; and up to 45 minutes if making one large galette.  During the final 15 minutes of baking, brush the pears with the balsamic and maple glaze.
  7. Garnish with addition fresh thyme if desired and serve with a scoop of ice cream! I drizzled the ice cream with some of the balsamic and maple glaze as well!

 

Pear, Gorgonzola and Thyme Galette and McConnell's Ice Cream - Salty Sweet Life

 

 

delicatasquash-11


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Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

I tried to celebrate World Vegetarian Day on October 1. I really, really tried. I had found a recipe for “smoked eggplant” in an Indian cookbook and chalked it up to kismet that I had all the ingredients in the pantry. I roasted the eggplants whole on the grill, then peeled the charred skin away and cut it up in cubes. I sautéed onions, garlic, chiles and added some warming spices. The kitchen smelled amazing! And then I tasted it. It tasted like poison–acrid and so bitter! I tried to zhoosh it up with some coconut milk and fresh lime juice, but it would not budge and remained wholly inedible.  There was no saving it, and so we ate chicken…on World Vegetarian Day.  I hate when that happens.

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

Eggplant disasters aside, I am no stranger to vegetarian cooking and I’ve been a vegetarian and a vegan at different points in my life. So, with October being Vegetarian Awareness Month, I want to be mindful of incorporating more meatless meals into our weekly rotation. Let me be completely honest–I won’t be giving up meat entirely in October. I love my veggies, but I also love meat and October is just too full of fun ways to eat it! I’m not so sure I want to pass up chilies, stews and bratwursts this time of year! Now that it’s starting to cool down, I’m beginning to crave more sturdy vegetables–root vegetables, kale, Brussels sprouts, for example; and lately, I’ve been majorly crushing on Delicata Squash.

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

My current crush: Delicata Squash, shown in the foreground. They are usually yellow, elongated, with green stripes.

Mildly sweet and quite similar in flavor to butternut squash, but they bake so quickly and the best thing is that they don’t require peeling! After roasting, the skin is quite tender. They are like butternut squash’s low drama cousin–sweet, easygoing and perfect to add to an autumn salad! I’ve been finding them everywhere–from the farmer’s market to the regular grocery store.

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

This salad is such a powerhouse–crunchy, nutty quinoa, hearty kale, bright bursts of pomegranate, cranberries and pine nuts!  Once you’ve topped it with slices of maple roasted squash and tossed it with a lemony tahini dressing–I’m willing to bet that you’re going to forget that it’s meatless! It’s a salad that can be both a side dish or a complete meal and it also happens to be Vegan and gluten-free! Perfect for Meatless Monday!

This salad is super flexible.  I’ll tell you how I make it, and then you can add and subtract components according to your preference. When I’m making salads I always hear a little voice in my head that says: “Edit, Tracey! Don’t throw the entire pantry into it!” But that’s my thing–I like an epic grain salad! The quinoa is cooked just like pasta–in a pot of rapidly boiling, salted water and it only takes 10 minutes! By cooking the quinoa this way, the grains are fluffy and retain a bit of crunch. Simply slice the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast it in the oven. After about 15 minutes, toss them with a drizzle of maple syrup–they’ll get golden and sweet and you’ll find yourself popping into your mouth like snacks! Just be sure to save some for the salad.  I threw in pomegranate arils** for a little burst of tartness. I also added some dried cranberries and lightly toasted pine nuts for crunch. And the dressing! So amazing–creamy tahini, lemon juice, more maple syrup (because it’s Autumn) and garlic.  It’s an unbelievably delicious combination that was inspired by Sara Forte’s Tahini Dressing recipe The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook. I like eating this salad slightly warm, but it packs and refrigerates exceptionally well.

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Tahini Dressing inspired by The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, uncooked and rinsed in a fine mesh strainer (I mixed red and white quinoa for aesthetic purposes)
  • 2 Delicata Squash, seeds removed and flesh sliced into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 large bunch, lacinato (dinosaur) kale
  • Arils from 1 pomegranate**
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ground cumin
  • maple syrup
  • 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • olive oil and sea salt

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 small cloves garlic, pressed or grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-3 tablespoons water (as needed)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

  1. Toss the squash slices with the coconut oil and spread them evenly on a baking sheet. Season the squash lightly with salt, pepper and cumin. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the slices over and drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons of the maple syrup. Cook for 5 minutes more, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool. While the squash is baking, prepare the quinoa and the kale.
  2. Wash the kale, remove the ribs and chop into fairly small pieces. Place the kale in a salad bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Massage the salt and oil into the kale and set it aside.
  3. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt. Add the rinsed quinoa and boil for 10 minutes, or until it becomes translucent and the germ spirals from the kernel. Drain the quinoa in a mesh strainer and allow it to cool for a bit before adding it to the kale in the salad bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing. Add a little water, one tablespoon at a time until the dressing is the consistency that you prefer.
  5. Toss the quinoa with the kale, then add the pomegranate arils, pine nuts and cranberries, if using. Toss with the tahini dressing and top with the roasted squash.

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

NOTE: **I learned an easy way to remove the arils from a pomegranate. Slice the pomegranate in half around its equator and separate the two halves. Hold the pomegranate half over a bowl in the palm of your hand, cut side down. With a wooden spoon, repeatedly smack the back of the pomegranate until all of the arils have fallen into the bowl. Repeat with the second half of the pomegranate. Rinse, then remove the bits and pieces of membrane from the arils. It’s super simple and no stained fingers!

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash

Autumn Quinoa and Kale Salad with Maple Roasted Delicata Squash


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At Home with Adam Throgmorton: Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

I have a real treat for you because today I’m going to tell you about my good friend and brother-from-another-mother, Adam Throgmorton.  I met Adam this past winter at a pub crawl and I knew from the start that we were going to become fast friends. Architectural model builder, Disney Fanatic, Tiki Enthusiast and all-around mad genius, Adam is a force to be reckoned with and yet, he seems to genuinely believe that he’s a mere mortal like the rest of us! I chuckle at this, because once you spend any amount of time in his home, you realize that this guy is an Artist, with a capital A.  Adam has managed to create an atmosphere in his Southern Nevada home that will make you think you left the desert and stepped straight into paradise! So when the invitation came to spend an evening drinking Mai Tais poolside in his Tiki Terrace, I was over there quick as a flash with a platter of ceviche and doing my best impersonation of a person who could handle their liquor! See how I sacrifice for you? After an amazingly fun evening, I left there with a ton of great inspiration for my backyard, some ideas of how to bring a swanky vibe to my next cocktail party, and I learned how to mix a mean Mai Tai!

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

When you think of “tiki” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  For me, it’s that three-part episode of the Brady Bunch when they all went to Hawaii and Bobby Brady found an ancient Tiki statue at the construction site! Remember that trilling “toodle-loodle-loo” sound every time something terrible was going to happen?  You’re going to have that in your head now for the rest of the day…and you’re welcome.

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

Tiki Statue discovered in Hawaii–I’m told this may be related to Bobby Brady’s tiki idol…no bad luck has come of it, however.

Now, imagine the good parts of that episode–the fantastical, the mysterious, the exoticism of Hawaii; distilled of the Brady Bunch’s signature cheesiness and instead elevated to an art form.  It’s that fantastical vacation paradise that Adam has created in his own backyard.  As I entered the house I was greeted by the lilting sounds of Martin Denny–the “Father of Exotica” on the stereo and handed the most gorgeous Mai Tai in a vintage tumbler, complete with a little umbrella!  I was instantly transported to another time and place.  A more magical place–a place that’s a little swankier and a little more genteel, where the Tiki torches burn brightly and the lights twinkle like fireflies in the night.

If you’ve ever been to Disney World or Disneyland and visited the Enchanted Tiki Room, then you are already familiar with the look and sounds of Tiki. It’s characteristically Polynesian, but seen through an American lens, or as Adam explains it’s an “uniquely American…..mid-century, heterosexual version of ‘the other'”.  Adam credits his love for Tiki culture not with the Brady Bunch episode (which amazingly he still has not seen), but to his parents–his artist mother and his father, an architect and developer, who had built a tiki lounge in the basement of their suburban Illinois home.  According to Adam, the Tiki room and the joy that it brought his family inspired a life-long fascination with Tiki culture and a love for the magic of Disney, which he later discovered when his family lived in Florida for a period of time.    It was his love of all things Disney that brought him to Las Vegas to pursue his dream of becoming a Disney Imagineer, studying art and architecture at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. What began as a dream of becoming an Imagineer evolved into his dream career building scale architectural models for clients such as Wynn Resorts.

Adam built his Tiki Terrace in 2011 and says that the original structure took approximately one month to build. He’s been busy ever since, embellishing and furnishing it with pieces that he has either crafted by hand or collected through his travels. Each piece in the Tiki Terrace has a story, down to the carved wooden statue that he reverently places on the bar when he makes the drinks. It’s an exquisite piece, carved by his late mother, and serves as the guardian of the bar.

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

Statue carved by Adam’s mother

Photos taken during the construction of the Tiki Terrace - 2011. Photos courtesy of Adam Throgmorton

Photos taken during the construction of the Tiki Terrace – 2011. Photos courtesy of Adam Throgmorton

Adam carving a Tiki god into a large palm tree. Photo courtesy of Adam Throgmorton

Adam carving a Tiki god into a large palm tree. Photo courtesy of Adam Throgmorton

I was absolutely stunned at the level of detail that Adam put into his Tiki Terrace.  I’ve been to the Tiki Terrace several times now, and this was the first time I realized that the bamboo poles in the ceiling were not actual bamboo, but PVC, which Adam carved and painted to look like natural bamboo!

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

It’s this attention to detail that he brings to his signature Mai Tai. A little history of the drink:  the credit for the original Mai-Tai is given to Victor Bergeron, who founded the Trader Vic’s chain of Polynesian themed restaurants. Trader Vic, as he is called, created the drink in 1944 for his Oakland restaurant. It’s a potent mixture of rum, orange curaçao, lime juice, orgeat syrup, rock candy syrup shaken with lots of ice and garnished with a fresh mint sprig.

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

Presentation is so important–the lime half is placed in the drink to resemble an island. The mint sprig represents a palm tree!

Adam makes his Mai Tais based on the original Trader Vic recipe but tweaks it just a bit for his personal taste and calls it his “Mai Tai 2.0″!   For example, instead of rock candy syrup, Adam makes a honey syrup consisting of two parts honey and one part water, simmered and reduced until it reaches a pourable consistency.  Adam also uses a little less lime juice–1/2 of a lime instead of the traditional entire lime so that it’s not too tart. Adam uses two different rums for his drink–a high quality (not spiced) rum like Appleton Estates Jamaican Rum and Meyer’s Original Dark Rum.

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

The resulting drink is sweet and very, very strong!  Like, the kind of strong that sneaks up on you and leaves you swaying like a palm tree in the breeze (or maybe that’s just me)!  Adam offered me “a little refresher” several times during the evening and let’s just say that I needed a ride home later that night because I found myself curiously unable to walk in a straight line!

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

Tikis are everywhere in Adam’s home! Even down to this gorgeous toothpick and straw holder! Even the straws are Tiki-inspired!

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

Adam's Mai Tai 2.0

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 ounce, high quality aged rum, Adam uses Appleton Estates
  • 1 ounce dark rum
  • 1/2 ounce orange curaçao or orange liqueur
  • 1/2 Orgeat Syrup. Adam prefers Monin Orgeat
  • 1/2 honey syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 lime (reserve the spent lime for garnish)
  • mint sprig for garnish

Add all of the ingredients except for the mint sprig and lime rind in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake vigorously, then pour over ice.  Garnish by placing the spent lime half upside down on top of the ice.  Take the mint sprig in the palm of your hand and with your other hand, give it a good slap to release the fragrant oils. Place the mint sprig behind the lime so that it looks like a tiny palm tree!  If you desire, throw in a little cocktail umbrella!  Enjoy!

I had such an incredible time at Adam’s place that I wanted to bring some of this Tiki magic home with me! Sadly, I lack the artistic skills to build a Tiki Terrace in the backyard (and something tells me that the husband might not be game for another of my home projects).  But, since that night, I’ve been listening non-stop to Pandora radio’s Exotica and Martin Denny Stations. Interestingly enough, this genre is having quite a resurgence! You can believe that the next time I throw a cocktail party, this is going to be the soundtrack! Martin Denny’s 1959 “Quiet Village” album will make you feel like you just landed in paradise! I’ll light some tiki torches (easily found at any large home improvement store or garden center); then mix up a fabulous Mai Tai and sit back and relax! It’s like a vacation in a glass!

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

Salty Sweet Life - At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai

At Home with Adam Throgmorton:  Talking Tiki and The Making of a Great Mai Tai - Salty Sweet Life

Thank you Adam, for your hospitality and for allowing me to photograph your sanctuary!

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