Salty Sweet Life

Life Well-Seasoned


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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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Rockfish and Red Grapefruit Ceviche with Quick Pickled Fennel

Rockfish and Red Grapefruit Ceviche with Quick Pickled Fennel - Salty Sweet Life

I have a good friend whom I love to watch eat.  Ok, that sounds terribly creepy, but let me explain.  She will assemble a bunch of different ingredients, be it on a spoon, a cracker or a crostini, pop it into her mouth and then exclaim, eyes rolling back in her head: “oh my god that is such a Good Bite!!” Then excitedly, she’ll assemble it again, just the way she did it the first time and make sure everyone gets to experience that Good Bite! It’s so funny and such a pleasure when someone gets that excited about a bite of food, and that is exactly how I felt when I assembled this ceviche.  It looked like a wicked-weird combination of ingredients but when I built a little forkful of it: a little bite of fish, a chili pepper, a bit of grapefruit, a sliver of fennel and a lemon balm leaf; and tasted it, I found myself squealing just like my friend!  It was such a Good Bite!  I immediately called Eric into the kitchen and assembled the same bite for him and made him try it and the first words out of his mouth were: “there’s something in there that tastes like yellow Trix”.  What?!  Ok, I didn’t expect that, but he loved the bite, too (even with that odd association with “yellow Trix”)! I knew I had something awesome on my plate and I just had to share it with you!

So, let’s talk about these ingredients.  First and foremost, I chose Rockfish on the (rather emphatic) recommendation of the fishmonger at Whole Foods.  It’s normally sold filleted and the flesh is firm, pink and mildly flavored and it is this mild flavor that is really needed for a ceviche.  It absorbs the flavors of the citrus very well and is a perfect canvas for the other ingredients.  Whether you choose rockfish or another mild-flavored fish that is available in your area, be sure that it is very, very fresh.  Ceviche is a raw fish preparation where the fish is “cooked” in citrus juices, so you’ll want the freshest fish you can find. Ask your fishmonger to let you sniff the fish before they package it up for you if you have any doubts–it should smell briny like the ocean, but it should not smell funky or fishy. In addition, rockfish is very reasonably priced and at $11.99 per pound it won’t break the bank. I used two fillets for this dish, which was just under a pound.

Rockfish and Red Grapefruit Ceviche with Quick Pickled Fennel - Salty Sweet Life

Next up the pickled fennel.  Yes, this is an extra step and maybe even worthy of labeling this recipe with a “moderately fussy” descriptor, but let me assure you, making this quick pickle is so easy.  It takes only a few minutes of time to assemble, and then most of the preparation time after that is just to allow the brining liquid time to cool, so don’t let the 1 hour prep time scare you.  Pickled fennel is a revelation.  I never even considered pickling fennel until I had this amazing dish at a Japanese restaurant here in town called Yonaka Modern.  One of their sashimi preparations featured both pickled fennel and a dehydrated fennel crisp! Sweet and crisp and tart, the fennel added a special dimension to that dish and that’s exactly why I had to make some for this ceviche.

Chiles are so important for a ceviche to really “pop”.  I have made a ceviche before using peppers that weren’t hot enough and while it was good, it didn’t make my tastebuds stand up and give a round of applause! I chose one red Serrano chile and one green Serrano chile, and I tasted them just to make sure they were hot enough.  These were perfectly nuclear, so I felt good about de-seeding them both!

The red grapefruit adds a punch of brightness and its characteristic bitterness just sings next to that mild fish.  To top it off, I used a handful of lemon balm and mint leaves.  Lemon balm is new to my garden this year and I am so in love with this herb! It’s in the mint family, so of course, it grows like crazy, but it has the most wonderful, lemony scent and flavor.  This was the “yellow Trix” flavor that Eric was trying to identify, and you know, he wasn’t too far off because it is sweet and lemony!

All of these flavors together make this ceviche a Very Good Bite, indeed! Sweet, salty, spicy and tart–I couldn’t ask for anything more! I hope I’ve convinced you that you should RUN, don’t walk and Make. This. Ceviche.

Rockfish and Red Grapefruit Ceviche with Quick Pickled Fennel - Salty Sweet Life

Rockfish and Red Grapefruit Ceviche with Quick Pickled Fennel

  • Servings: 3-4 as an appetizer
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

For the pickled fennel:

  • 1 to 2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed of fronds and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, garlic and grapefruit zest and heat until the sugar is completed dissolved. Pack the sliced fennel bulb in a clean glass jar or a non-reactive bowl. Pour the pickling liquid over the sliced fennel bulb and allow it to come to room temperature, then refrigerate.

For the Ceviche:

  • 2-3 fillets of rockfish, cleaned, deboned and cut into small cubes
  • 2 Serrano chiles (one minced, one thinly sliced)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 red grapefruit
  • Several leaves of lemon balm or mint (or a combination of both)
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 small shallots, minced
  1. Carefully run your fingers across the fish fillets and with tweezers, remove any pin bones that you find. Slice the fish across the grain and then cut into cubes. Place the cubed fish in a bowl and refrigerate.
  2. Cut the top and bottom from the grapefruit, then slice away the peel and the pith until the flesh is exposed. Holding the grapefruit in the palm of your hand, slice between each membrane to release the segments into the bowl. After all of the segments are released, squeeze the remaining juice from the grapefruit into the bowl. Add the minced shallots to the grapefruit segments. Thinly slice one Serrano chile and add it to the grapefruit segments, then refrigerate.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, minced garlic, agave syrup and the minced Serrano chile. Stir well and refrigerate.
  4. When you are ready to serve the ceviche, combine the fish with the grapefruit segments and gently mix it together with your hands. Just prior to serving, give the lime juice mixture a stir, then pour over the ceviche. Mix gently with your hands and pour onto a chilled serving platter. Allow 2 to 3 minutes for the fish to “cook” in the lime juice. Garnish with the pickled fennel, fresh mint leaves and lemon balm and serve immediately.

Rockfish and Red Grapefruit Ceviche with Quick Pickled Fennel - Salty Sweet Life

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life


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Cool Tools: Molcajete | The Only Guacamole Recipe You’ll Ever Need

 

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life

Chips. Salsa. Guacamole. Three simple things that tell me all I need to know about the meal I’m about to have in a Mexican restaurant.  If the salsa arrives and looks and tastes like ketchup, my hopes are dashed and I steel myself for the impending disaster that is surely to follow.  But when the salsa is that perfect blend of fresh, spicy, tart and salty, my tastebuds jump up and do a little dance! And the candle on the cake is when they make guacamole tableside in a molcajete! Ah, guacamole.  For me, it is the quintessential dip. I can eat it by the bowlful and god forbid I should run out of those amazingly light, salty tortilla chips! Why, yes, I would like more chips, please! I am a salsa and guacamole fiend! It’s no wonder I end up taking most of my main dish home in a to-go box!

guacamoleC

So this guacamole. This is the recipe. The only one you’re ever going to need.  I don’t mind saying that it’s the perfect blend of texture, heat, tart citrus, sweet and smoke. Yes, I said that.  Smoke.  We’ll talk more about that in a minute. It’s both chunky and creamy and the heat smolders on your tongue.  It’s positively addicting.  Bring on those chips! Which reminds me that I need to buy more chips because after I made this guacamole, I was stunned to find that there were exactly three chips and a whole bunch of crumbs left in the bag.  Who does this?  hmm.  Only two people live here…

Three chips, folks.  I mean, really.

Three chips, folks. I mean, really.

So let’s talk about this awesome molcajete I found!  I almost hesitate to call it a true molcajete because it doesn’t have the characteristic three-footed base, so I’ll consider it a Modern Molcajete.  How’s that for coinage?  A traditional molcajete is basically a Mexican version of a mortar and pestle.  I found this one at Costco recently for about $15.00 which is a steal!  I have a much smaller mortar and pestle that easily set me back twice that price. At 8.5 inches in diameter and made of solid granite, it is almost the heaviest tool in my kitchen! I’d been seeing this molcajete at Costco for quite a few weeks and I hesitated buying it because, as I mentioned, I already had a mortar and pestle and I have a bit of an aversion to duplicating kitchen tools. But my smaller mortar and pestle made it challenging to make pesto because it was just too small and the basil kept flying out of it! So with the great price and at double the size, I just couldn’t pass it up!  I’ll still use the smaller mortar and pestle as it is perfect for grinding whole spices.

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life

Any molcajete, traditional or modern, will require seasoning before it’s used the first time.  This can easily be done by grinding rice or coarse salt until no flecks of stone remain in the grounds.  I used coarse salt and ground it until it was a fine powder, then cleaned it out, and repeated the process with more salt.  After that, a good rinse with clean water removed any remaining dust.  As with cast iron or unglazed stoneware, you never want to use any soap when cleaning it–just plain water and a stiff brush.

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life

In same way that a pesto made in a mortar and pestle has a fuller, richer flavor than when made in a food processor, guacamole made in a molcajete is its bolder south-of-the-border cousin!  Because I’m not your abuela, I’m sure I didn’t go about this in a traditional fashion–for one thing, I just piled everything in the mortar at the same time instead of systematically grinding the ingredients in steps. You’ll also notice the absence of tomatoes. I hope you don’t beat me up too much for taking such license, but I know that once you taste it, you will forgive me! This guacamole begins with onion, garlic and jalapeño peppers, roasted on the grill until the onion is lightly charred and sweet, the garlic, tender and the peppers, tempered and smoky.  This is the magic–the key step that makes this guacamole special and gives it that smokiness.  Then those ingredients are added to ripe avocados, a generous squeeze of fresh lime and cilantro and pounded until they meld into this most fabulous amalgam.  Sweet. Smoke. Spice. Acid. Seriously, this is the only guacamole recipe you’ll need.

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life

Guacamole In Molcajete

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2-3 ripe avocados seeded, peeled and cut into halves or quarters (I used 2 1/2)
  • 1/2 large white or sweet onion cut into thick slices
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 2 cloves unpeeled garlic
  • 1/2 fresh lime
  • Cilantro leaves, stems removed, about a palmful
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • rounded 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola oil

Preheat your grill to 400 degrees (medium-high heat)

  1. Slice 1/2 of a large onion into thick slices. Coat the onion, jalapeños and garlic cloves with oil and place them on baking sheet or cast iron grill pan and grill until the onion is softened and lightly charred, about 10 minutes. With tongs, toss the onions often so that they don’t burn and rotate the jalapeños until their skin becomes evenly charred. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  2. When the jalapeños are cool enough to handle, the skin becomes wrinkled and easily peels away. Using gloves and a sharp knife, if needed, scrape the skin from the peppers and discard. Coarsely chop the peeled peppers. If you prefer more heat, leave the seeds intact. If you prefer a milder heat, scrape the seeds from the peppers before chopping them.
  3. Peel and mince the garlic, then chop the onion.
  4. Place all of the ingredients into the mortar and using a pounding and grinding motion, mix until the guacamole is semi-smooth and all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Taste and add additional lime juice or salt if needed.  Alternatively, if not using a mortar and pestle or molcajete, mash all of the ingredients together with a fork or potato masher.

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life

Guacamole | Salty Sweet Life

This is his punishment for eating all of the chips--holding this insanely heavy mortar while I took this photo! I may or may not have taken my sweet time...

This is his punishment for eating all of the chips–holding this insanely heavy mortar while I took this photo! I may or may not have taken my sweet time…

tomatotart


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Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart

Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart | Salty Sweet Life

August is playing a trick on us.  It’s usually a million degrees here, but between overcast skies, afternoon thunderstorms and temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, I’ve almost convinced myself that Autumn is right around the corner.  So pervasive was this thought that I actually turned on my oven and made this Heirloom Tomato Tart!

I know I’ve been waxing poetic about heirloom tomatoes these last few weeks, but I cannot resist! Tomatoes are just so juicy and sweet and plump this time of year that I cannot help myself. Fresh tomatoes are here and we are stuffing our faces with them every chance we get! Before long, it will be October and all we’ll have are canned tomatoes or at worst, those awful mealy, off-season tomatoes at the grocery store!  So, I hope you’ll bear with me for one more week while I continue to gorge myself with vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes!

This tart was inspired by a dear friend and coworker who makes the most amazing comfort foods!  She is the Queen of Cream; the Baroness of Bacon!  Everything she makes is just filled with so much love and joy and butterfat (and oftentimes, bacon fat)! This dish was inspired by her very own crustless Ricotta Pie which I always look forward to when she brings it to the office!  It is so decadent and rich and filled with creamy, ricotta cheese! She finishes it with roasted grape tomatoes, warm from the oven.  I fully intended to follow her recipe, but I accidentally left the recipe at work, so, I had to improvise and I was so happy with the end result!  I filled a buttery, flaky pie crust with a mixture of ricotta, parmesan and goat cheeses, fresh herbs, and garlic.  In honor of these last days of summer, I kept it light and topped it with fresh tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, and fresh-picked basil! I used mini heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, but feel free to use your favorite type of tomatoes. This tart is perfect for brunch or a light lunch and I promise you won’t be sorry that you turned on your oven in August!

Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart | Salty Sweet Life

I made this tart crust from scratch, but I will not judge you at all if you want to use a pre-made pie crust for this dish!   Since I am far from an expert at making pie crust, I will tell you that I used this recipe from Martha Stewart, because if anyone is an expert in pie crust, it’s her! This recipe makes enough for two crusts.  You can freeze the second crust for a future tart!  For this tart, I used a 14″x4 1/2″ rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom and blind-baked the crust prior to filling it.  My tart crust was far from perfect-looking…let’s call it “rustic”, shall we?

Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1 hour, plus 1 hour resting time
  • Difficulty: somewhat fussy
  • Print

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  • 1/2 pie crust recipe, rolled out to just less than 1/4″ thick
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons herb salt (if not using herb salt, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Assorted heirloom tomatoes, either quartered if using mini-tomatoes, or sliced
  • Good olive oil
  • Fresh basil
  • Maldon Salt
  1. Line a tart pan with the pie crust and press into the corners. Trim away the excess crust with a knife, but don’t trim it flush with the top of the tart pan. Leave a little extra at the top edge to account for any shrinkage. With a fork, poke holes in the bottom of the crust. Place the tart pan on top of a baking sheet. Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the crust and weigh it down with dried beans or pie weights. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the crust is lightly browned. Remove the crust from the oven and remove the parchment paper with the beans. Set the crust aside.
  2. While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a medium sized bowl, stir together the cheeses, the chopped basil and thyme, garlic, herb salt (or plain salt), egg and black pepper until smooth.
  3. Fill the tart crust with the filling and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until it is firm to the touch and not jiggly in the middle.
  4. Place the quartered tomatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with a pinch of Maldon Salt. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss with a handful of torn basil leaves. Distribute the tomatoes over the top of the tart and serve.

Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart | Salty Sweet Life

Heirloom Tomato and Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese Tart | Salty Sweet Life

 

 

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Cheese Caprese Salad - Salty Sweet Life


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Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Caprese Salad and That Time I Broke the Cat.

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Cheese Caprese Salad - Salty Sweet Life

DIY and I just don’t get along and I’ll tell you why.  Home improvement projects, on the whole, are NEVER as easy as they look, and sometimes, when you’re me, they can cause a cascade of unfortunate events that just might make you decide that the ugly wallpaper in the bathroom just might be fine for another year. It all started last Saturday morning.  It was that glorious, early morning golden hour, before the cats were awake and meowing, before breakfast needed to be made.  HGTV was on in the background, I was reading the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens on my iPad and then an article popped up on my Houzz app that gave me 11 (really awesome) reasons to paint my interior doors black!  Do you know Houzz?  Houzz is awesome.  It’s a huge database of Things You Want to Do To Your House But Should Really Call a Contractor for.  “This is a great idea!”, I thought. “This is going to be an easy, low budget update!”  So, with visions swirling in my head of elegant, black doors, off I went to the home improvement store for black paint and supplies!

First I tackled the honey-oak finished handrail going up our stairwell.  I had to sand it first to remove the existing finish and that’s where things began going downhill.  I’d say about an hour into sanding, I was ready to throw in the proverbial towel and by then it was way too late to back out, so I forged ahead.  It took me all day to paint that handrail black!  All day for a relatively straight piece of wood that seemed to go on for miles!  What I didn’t realize, however, was that while I was involved in this Sisyphean task I was unwittingly opening a huge can of whoop-ass on my poor cat, Simon.

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The handrail that began it all: Before and After. Oh, and that cat at the top of the stairs about to walk through sawdust? That’s Simon.

Simon.  My sweet, talkative, lovable kitty is allergic to absolutely everything.  The irony is not lost on me that my hairless cat, whom I chose because I’m allergic to furry cats, has allergic reactions that send him to the vet about every six months.  These are not just mild allergies–runny nose, sniffles, that kind of thing;  but major, potentially life-altering ones. A couple of years ago, he went into anaphylaxis after normal vaccines! That episode left him with a huge scar on his butt and a free pass from the vet to never again get vaccinated!    And I didn’t even think, until I heard a distant string of sneezes, that he would be allergic to either paint or wood dust, or both. First came the sneezing, then the congestion and then on Wednesday morning, he was covered in hives from head to tail with big, angry-looking splotches on his belly. I took one look at him and burst into tears!  He wouldn’t eat or drink, which, is a scary situation in cats because it could lead to liver failure. The next three days were spent shuttling back and forth to the vet and to his allergist.  Yes, you read that right, he has an allergist.  Two steroid shots and an arsenal of prescription medications later, Simon is finally beginning to come back around.  He just started eating voluntarily last night (we had to force-feed him with a syringe before that) and his hives are fading (much to his mama’s relief).

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Simon, my little allergy-prone kitty, shown before his mama broke him.

I realize that I started off talking about painting doors, and I did manage to paint a set of French doors in the dining room before the weight of Simon’s allergies came crashing down around me.  I will tell you that painting doors (or anything for that matter) black is an exercise in frustration!  I applied coat after coat of paint, and still it’s not quite perfect.  To be honest, it may just stay “not quite perfect”.   It does look nice, though.  For the price of three days of vet bills, I could have hired a painter to come and do ALL the doors in my house AND paid to send Simon to a sitter for the day.

One set of doors down…eight more to go.

One set of doors down…eight more to go.

So how does this apply to Caprese salad?  Well, it really doesn’t but after the week I had, I needed something that would be easy right off the bat!  No hidden complications, no potentially devastating consequences.  This dish fit that bill!  It is gorgeous and unlike those black doors, it really is as easy as it looks! I’ve been binging on heirloom tomatoes lately–as we all should be since this is the season that they are at their juicy best!  I look for any excuse to eat them and this salad is simply perfect.  It starts with creamy, burrata cheese.  Burrata cheese is a fresh cheese that is traditionally made from the leftovers of the mozzarella cheese-making process. It is essentially fresh mozzarella cheese, but it is filled with cream and bits of fresh mozzarella.  When you slice it open, the creamy filling pours out and it is decadent and delicious! I found this cheese at Trader Joe’s and it is fantastic and affordable. With a simple recipe like this, the quality of the individual ingredients is so important.  Surround that cheese with the ripest tomatoes you can find.  Tuck some torn, fresh basil leaves into every nook and cranny. Drizzle it with your very best olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   If you really want to get fancy, top it with some good pesto–homemade or your favorite store-bought.  It’s like summer on a plate and unlike DIY, it will neither break the bank, nor your cat!

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Cheese Caprese Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Cheese Caprese Salad

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 balls of Burrata Cheese at room temperature
  • Assorted ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • Fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Maldon Sea Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Good olive oil
  • Good Balsamic vinegar or Balsamic Reduction
  • Pesto, if desired
  1. Place one ball of burrata cheese in a bowl or on a plate. Surround the cheese with the heirloom tomatoes and torn basil leaves.
  2. If using pesto, spoon over the top of the cheese.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and season with a sprinkle of Maldon salt and fresh ground pepper.

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Cheese Caprese Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Cheese Caprese Salad - Salty Sweet Life

 


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Gnarly Tomato Water Blood Mary with Hot Pepper Infused Vodka

 

Tomato Water Blood Mary - Salty Sweet Life

I will be the first to admit that Bloody Marys have always been a bit of a mystery to me. Is it soup? Is it breakfast? Is it a non-pharmaceutical hangover cure? Aside from the Bloody Mary that one of my favorite restaurants in town makes (they serve them up spicy with a big piece of peppered bacon as a garnish), I’ve never really enjoyed them. If I’m really honest, that big piece of bacon is a major reason why I like that one! Until now, I was prepared to accept the fact that like the Negroni, the Bloody Mary would forever be a mystery to me.

So, when I saw a recipe for a Tomato Water Bloody Mary in the pages of Food and Wine Magazine this month, first, I was intrigued and then a lightbulb went off in my head!   Since I’m already a chronic over-purchaser of certain items (in-season tomatoes, limes, and lemons, for example) and after last weekend’s baby shower, I ended up with an insane amount of leftover cocktail tomatoes! Added to that, we harvested what was left of our sad tomato crop from the garden. A word about that. This has been the most disappointing growing season ever! We planted more tomato plants this year than any other year and yet we harvested the least amount of tomatoes! Between an early heat wave,  a bunch of crazy windstorms, and a healthy dose of user error, our tomato plants looked like hell and they had to go.  So, we ripped out most of them and harvested what we managed to wrangle from the beaks of some very aggressive pigeons.  What we had left were some of the gnarliest, ugliest tomatoes I’d ever seen. Scarred, sun-scalded, split, unevenly red, you wouldn’t have wanted to run into these tomatoes in a dark alley; yet in a twist of irony, they were some of the juiciest and sweetest tomatoes I’d ever tasted!

Tomato Water Bloody Mary - Salty Sweet Life

So, while I pondered a way to use all these juicy and awesomely ugly tomatoes, I had another Eureka moment. Remember that hot pepper infused vodka that I made a while back?  Well, silly me left that hot pepper vodka to infuse for far too long and it was fire-breathing dragon hot!  It was so hot that the heat overpowered just about everything I tried it in.  I had a hunch that a Bloody Mary, with all its crazy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink list of ingredients, would be the perfect vehicle to showcase such an in-your-face ingredient! So, with my armload of tomatoes, a bit of salt and a little patience, I whipped up this Bloody Mary and I’m proud to say that it’s the first one I’ve truly enjoyed!  It was bright; it was refreshing!  It didn’t taste like soup in a cup.  It had the perfect amount of lip-tingling heat, but it was balanced by that fresh, sweet, tomato water. I had to dilute my hot pepper vodka with plain vodka, but if your infusion isn’t too spicy, feel free to use all hot pepper vodka!

As I mentioned, it does take a little patience to wait for all of those tomatoes to release enough water for the drink, but it is well worth it!  This is truly a great way to enjoy fresh, summer tomatoes, whether they are picture-perfect, or downright homely! And fear not, those tomatoes did not go to waste!  I threw them into the food processor with some onion, garlic and jalapeño peppers and made a mean bowl of salsa!

Tomato Water Bloody Marys

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 1 hour prep, 5 minutes assembly
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, August 2014, Chef Gavin Kaysen

  • 1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup tomato juice
  • 3 tablespoons Hot Pepper Infused Vodka
  • 1/4 cup plain Vodka
  • 1 teaspoon grated horseradish (I used jarred, prepared horseradish because fresh horseradish was difficult to find)
  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Tabasco Sauce
  • fresh ground black pepper
  1. Place the fresh, sliced tomatoes in a colander set above a bowl. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the kosher salt and allow the tomatoes to sit for at least one hour. You’ll begin to see the water drain from the tomatoes into the bowl. After an hour and just before you prepare the drink, press lightly to squeeze out any additional tomato water. Set the colander of tomatoes aside.
  2. Pour the collected tomato water into a mixing glass. I collected about 1/2 cup of tomato water from one pound of tomatoes. Add the remaining ingredients to the mixing glass and stir well. Pour the cocktail into two Collins glasses filled with ice and garnish with your favorite herbs. I used a sprig of Thai Basil, a cocktail tomato and a dill pickle spear!

Tomato Water Blood Mary - Salty Sweet Life

 

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life


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(BABY!) Israeli Couscous (BABY!) Asparagus and (BABY!) Mushroom Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Ahh, babies.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had babies on the brain. Most of my peers had kids so long ago that they are now old enough to be productive members of society; but a month ago, one of my closest and dearest friends had a baby boy the day after my birthday!   I cannot tell you how excited I am that a new baby has come into our little group of mostly child-free friends! I don’t have children of my own and that’s not entirely by choice.  I struggled with infertility for many years before coming to the realization that one day my lady parts were going to become my undoing.  That realization came in 2007 when I landed in the hospital with a collapsed lung caused by severe endometriosis.  The following year, almost to the day, my lung spontaneously collapsed again. That time, I spent 6 grueling weeks in the hospital having 4 unsuccessful surgeries before finally heading to the Mayo Clinic for treatment.  Remember when I mentioned my scars a few weeks back?  That situation accounted for about 60% of them!  I spent a week at the Mayo Clinic and they got me in good working order and I am forever grateful for that medical facility–they are nothing short of amazing!  For the next 5 years, I tried to avoid the question of what to do about my fertility but once again, my body kind of chose for me.  Between the endometriosis and then fibroids, my quality of life was declining, so last year, I bid adieu to my defective parts and gained a few extra scars.  You should see me in a bikini!  I now just tell people I was attacked by a shark!  It was ultimately a good decision, but one made with the stark realization that I was closing the door on having children and assuming the permanent title of Aunt Tracey.  And, you know, being Aunt Tracey isn’t so bad. I get to have all the baby-snuggling, play-doh buying and party-throwing fun, without the parent-teacher conferences and college funds!

Last weekend my friends and I threw a baby-welcoming party to welcome this new little person to the tribe!  Since this is not a story about biting off more than I can chew, I won’t mention how it’s totally possible to exist on a diet of pink and yellow Jordan almonds and caffeine for 48 hours or that my default amount of food for any gathering equates to “enough to feed an army”.  5 people?  Army.  15 people? Most definitely an Army. Probably throw in the Navy for good measure…

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Here’s one thing that I know to be true about every party. No matter how much planning and preparation goes into it, party day time is different than normal time.  Party day time elapses at a speed that will make your head spin.  This party was scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. and I swear, 9:00 to 11:00 went by in 10 minutes!  Thank goodness I had a lot of help from my friends who helped decorate and put together this amazing spread of appetizers!

Melon balls with prosciutto, Vietnamese summer rolls, roasted potatoes and cucumbers with creme fraiche and capers, tomato caprese skewers

Melon balls with prosciutto, Vietnamese summer rolls, roasted potatoes and cucumbers with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and capers, tomato caprese skewers

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I did not make these cupcakes! But my awesome friend made the adorable elephant cut-outs! So cute!

The theme of the menu was salads and flatbread pizzas and I was pleased that there was something for every dietary need–vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, omnivore–I think we had it all covered!  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few of the newer dishes from this menu, but this Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad was on the menu as well as this Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread Pizza.

Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread with Balsamic Reduction

Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread with Balsamic Reduction

This Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom salad was a big hit! I know this because there was only one tiny bowl of it left after the party was over!  What I loved about this salad was that it could be assembled the night before without the dressing and quickly finished just before the guests arrived, which is great if you’re Aunt Tracey, who makes too much food and is pretty much going crazy making more and more dishes at the last minute.  This salad is a playground of flavors and textures: bouncy, tender couscous, crisp-tender asparagus and crunchy spinach are balanced against the meaty umami of sautéed mushrooms.  Salty Parmiggiano-Reggiano is tucked in throughout the salad and the whole thing is punctuated by a bright, tangy, red wine vinaigrette.  It’s healthy and it’s filling without making you feel heavy.  There are a few different components that are made separately, but I’m going to tell you how you can save a little time by changing your method for cooking grains!

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

In the past, I’ve always made grains in my rice cooker or on the stovetop.  Usually I would use a 2 parts water to one part grain ratio and cook it until the grain has absorbed all of the water.   But, last year, my friend Alexandra, from Alexandra’s Kitchen who is also a big fan of grain salads, started talking about cooking grains in a big pot of water, just as you would when you boil pasta.   The grains cook completely and retain their fluffiness in the salad and what’s more, it cooks in LESS time than the rice cooker or stovetop method. It’s foolproof.  I’ve been using this method for quinoa and decided to apply the same method to the couscous for this salad, since Israeli Couscous is essentially a small, pearl-shaped pasta.  I simply started a pot of water, threw in a generous pinch (more like a tablespoon) of salt and put the water on to boil.  To save time, I blanched my asparagus for the salad in the boiling water, removed it and shocked it, then put the couscous right into the same boiling, salted water.  I cooked it for 10 minutes, drained it with a fine mesh strainer and gave it a rinse with cold water.  It worked perfectly! The couscous retained its shape and was well-seasoned by the salted water.  Since I was making it ahead of time, I drizzled it with a little olive oil just to keep the grains from sticking together.  I’m going to try it soon with farro and barley and I’ll report back on how it turns out, but I’m pretty confident that it will work.  I actually used Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend for this dish.  It’s a blend of Israeli Couscous, quinoa, orzo, and garbanzo beans and I love all of the different textures of the grains!  If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, you can find Israeli Couscous in the grocery store located near the rice.

The party was a blast.  Everyone had a great time and left with full bellies and to-go containers!  I got to honor my best friend and her new little guy. Food, friends and family.  It’s what it’s all about. I am Aunt Tracey.  And I will snuggle your babies (because my cats don’t tolerate that one bit).

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Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad

  • Servings: 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe can easily be increased for a larger portion.

  • 1 cup Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend or Israeli Couscous
  • 8 ounces sliced Crimini Mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • A few handfuls of baby spinach
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon herb salt or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or Parmiggiano Reggiano
  • kosher salt
  • unsalted butter (optional)
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little butter, if desired, in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Sauté the mushrooms in batches with a pinch of kosher salt until they are golden brown.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  2. Fill a pot with water and season with about one tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Fill a medium sized bowl with ice water. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook for one minute. Remove the asparagus (leave the water in the pot) with a slotted spoon or fine mesh sieve and immediately plunge the asparagus in the bowl of ice water. After the asparagus cools, drain and set it aside.
  3. Pour the couscous or couscous blend into the pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes, or until the couscous is tender.
  4. While the couscous is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the vinegar, crushed garlic, dijon mustard, agave syrup, herb salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 5 tablespoons of olive oil until the mixture has emulsified and set aside.
  5. Drain the couscous into a large mesh sieve or colander and rinse with cool water. Toss the couscous with a little olive oil to keep the grains from sticking and place in a large salad bowl.
  6. Add the asparagus, mushrooms, a few handfuls of spinach and the shaved Parmesan cheese to the couscous. Add the dressing, then toss, using your hands if necessary. Garnish with more shaved Parmesan.

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette - Salty Sweet Life

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

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