Turkey Day Trials 2014; Floating

25 Nov

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Sometimes, just silly things happen in the kitchen. Like when I went to strain a sauce and acting on habit, strained it down the drain. Or when (and this is from my mom’s perspective) I do a little kitchen jig when the food I make is good. Or spicy. Well, the other day, as a part of my Turkey Day Trials, another mishap came about that still has me giggling.

When Rob and I lived in Oregon, for a treat we would go for a cocktail and appetizers at the lounge at Bandon Dunes. We would dress up Pacific-Northwest-Golf-Club-fancy (yes that is a real fashion category) and watch as the cold-to-the-bone expert golfers would finish up the 18th. It was a little bit boushie and out of our Coos Bay ordinary, and we always struck up conversations with the most interesting (and sometimes famous) people. It got to a point that “our” bartender would put in the usual orders when he saw us walk in the door, and a few minutes later our Blue Cheese Chips were fragrantly awaiting our devour.

The bowl of freshly-fried potato chips always went down quickly and shook off the lingering chill from the constantly-present coastal winds. But what always added to our Bandon experience was driving by the cranberry bogs on the way to the golf resort. I’d always strain my neck to see what stage of growth the cranberries were in, and harvest was always the best time. Stretching fields of red bogs, like giant ruby blankets against the green pines, the floating berries were sucked up into a tube and then shot out like miniature cannon balls into a truck, ready for processing and distribution.

This water-powered firing of small, red fruit usually marked the autumnal season, signaling Thanksgiving was right around the corner. So this year, I paid homage to the cranberry by making an irresistible cranberry relish – one that puts even the coveted, jellied amazingness to shame.

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By simply taking 1 quart of fresh cranberries, ½ c sugar, a bottle of strong ginger beer (I like Reeds), a 4-in stick of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and (here’s the kicker), a tea infuser of chamomile flowers, you will end up with a reduced, naturally pectin-infused bowl of beautiful, fragrant, and more-than-tasty cranberry relish. The trick is waiting until the boiling bubbles are shiny and slow-to-pop in the pot, almost like preparing a jam. After the relish is cooled, it will be thick yet spreadable, sweet yet tangy. Simple perfection at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or just the everyday autumn and winter breakfast spread.

So what was so silly about making this relish? The fact that in my first batch (a major mishap), I added a bit of liquid, then a bit more, then a bit more, each time expecting the berries to be covered and give me a culinary visual of the accurate liquid amount. And after all those days watching the bogs, I completely forgot that… cranberries float!!! No matter the liquid amount, the cranberries will never sink in the pot like they do with other jam fruit. So stick with the recipe – it works, thanks to my silly mistake.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy with food, love, laughter, and memories!

Turkey Day Trials 2014

16 Nov

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While October seemed to have sluggishly ambled by, November has been no joke – it’s already half-way through the month and only a week and a half away from the biggest foodie day of the year. Already, Christmas decorations, songs, sales, and Santas have inundated the stores, almost like Thanksgiving is that afterthought of a day firmly arriving to devote its purpose solely to the day after, when all the crazy shopping happens.

Really, people?

Let’s slow down for a moment and savor this season. It’s fall. Beautiful leaves, filling foods, and get-togethers lending perfect excuses to have just that one more glass of wine. For me, aside from the food, Rob has safely made it back from a deployment, creating another reason to celebrate. But this year, I’ve taken a different approach.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by small gatherings, simple entertaining, and outrageously good tastes. So, I’ve been creating small bites that are perfect for giant, festive entertaining, or just a special holiday dinner for two. My mom will attest that since I was old enough to chew, my favorite foods were the traditional turkey, stuffing, and cranberry dinner tastes. So for me to step out of the traditional American turkey day box is a little uncouth.

But go with it. Try it. You’ll be surprised – I was!

Try my Pumpkin Seed and Pomegranate Guacamole. Guac? On Thanksgiving? Oh come on, the avocado needs some holiday love, too. Especially with so many meatless options these days, this is a perfect stand-alone dip, elegant atop a crostini, or the silent hero in a leftover cranberry, lettuce and guac sandwhich. It’s creamy, with a roasted bite from the pumpkin seed oil, plus a surprising tang of sweetness only known by the pomegranate.

This guac is great and extremely versatile. Dress it up with a pairing of champagne, or make it comfort food extraordinaire while enjoying on the couch watching football. It is fancy enough to be a holiday-party-go-to, comforting enough to be a pot-luck favorite, and simple enough to whip up for a festive fall evening for two. No, it’s not a turkey, and no, it’s not stuffing. But in our house, this is definitely going to be a new Thanksgiving tradition.

Enjoy!

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Pumpkin Seed & Pomegranate Guacamole
(this recipe serves 4, but alter ingredients to make as much as you need!)

  • 2 ripe Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  • Juice ½ lime
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ tsp roasted pumpkin seed oil
  • ½ tsp pomegranate balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
  • s&p

In a large bowl, use a fork to combine all ingredients except for the pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Season to taste with s&p (I always find that I need a bit more pepper than expected when working with avocados). When well combined, top with the pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Serve as is with chips, or shmear on crostini, or slather on a sandwich for a perfect holiday-inspired meal! Enjoy!

Paleo 101

12 Oct

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I like to entertain. Actually, when filing out the eHarmony personality profile years ago, “likes to entertain” was one of the things that found Rob and I compatible. In Oregon, with the close proximity of everyone in our neighborhood (well, really it was the close proximity of the width of the peninsula – there weren’t many miles to go before hitting water on either side!), we would entertain all the time. Big, late-into-the-night parties, simple girls’ nights, football get-togethers, I think once we may have even celebrated Groundhogs Day. Hey, it’s an American holiday, right?

Since moving to Jacksonville, we haven’t entertained as much. The deployments are constant, the distance from one end of Jacksonville to the other is over an hours’ drive, and we happen to live in the “country.” Which, I love, but it does make the trek out here a little long. But enough was enough. It was time for a girls’ night.

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After inviting a group of friends over, I was in the full get-together swing of things. The morning of the party started a little rocky with my homemade almond butter ending up on the ceiling (that little blender stopper dohicky thing is important), but the house was already decorated for the season, so the only thing left for décor was ironing napkins. Easy. For the menu, I kept true to my roots; seasonal is always best.  The weather has just started to change in JAX, exhibiting an autumnal breeze cool enough to notice there isn’t sweat running down my thighs for the first time in months.  So I thought a healthy comfort food meal would be perfect: white bean dip with cast iron nuts and stuffed bacon-wrapped dates for appetizers, and spaghetti squash with a veg ragu accompanied by a green bean, leek and apricot succotash as the main. The girls were generously bringing wine and dessert, so we were all set.

Green Bean Succotash

Martha and Ina would have been proud of my table (yay for pumpkin name plates!), and the dinner just smelled delicious. Everything was planned out swimmingly until, 5 minutes before the guests arrive, I freak out. Remembering that two of the girls coming were following a general Paleo diet, my gasp was audible. Here I am, with my veg-inspired background not at all following rule #1 of entertaining: serve what will make your guests feel special. AH! Paleo is meat-based, and the pepitas on my ragu isn’t going to cut it! Is there time to stuff a chicken in the oven? No…. Can I throw some salami on the squash? Hardly. With the doorbell ringing, I prayed to the veggie Gods for help, and the protein Gods for clemency.

My freak-out, like honestly most freak-outs, was just plain silly. We had such a good time, and the ladies loved the meal. Better than any food or wine that night was the amazing company and the growing of friendships. Which is truly the reason for any entertaining. We all had a lot in common and were able to share some pretty funny military wife stories. No boys allowed.

The Paleo diet did come up though, and after we said our goodbyes, I decided to do a little more research on the topic. So, as I sat in bed, eating a late-night dessert piece of sourdough with butter, I ironically read about the gluten, grain, legume, and dairy-free lifestyle. Through breadcrumbs on my night-shirt and with butter-licked fingers, I learned about the pros and cons of “primal” eating, and it truly inspired me.

Being one that focuses eating on a more flexitarian principle, I do experiment with different styles of cooking and eating, as long as it’s whole-food, seasonal, clean eating. So into the Paleo world I dove.

Remember the almond butter on the ceiling? Well, that was a small series of catastrophes that led to me throwing my hands up in the air (as opposed to my blender against the wall) on making homemade almond butter, and settled for almond milk instead. Loving plain almond milk but wanting to spice things up a bit, I let raw almonds, coconut chips, and a touch of maple syrup sit completely covered with water for 24 hours in the fridge. After it was blended and then strained, I was left with a beautiful, slightly naturally sweetened almond milk, and a hearty almond mash.

Almond Milk & Mash

The Paleo inspritation: almond cookies! Similarly to how I use my juicing pulp to make crackers, I couldn’t let the mash go to waste. So mixing in a quick dough of coconut flour, almond butter, a touch of maple syrup and the mash, I whipped up a crunchy and creamy Coconut Almond & Maple cookie that would leave even the biggest sweet tooth none-the-wiser. They are super easy to make, and even easier to eat.

Despite the flexitarian diet, the evening was such a blast and I look forward to the next time the girls get together. Only next time, I’ll serve marinated flank steak, and these cookies for dessert!

Enjoy!

Paleo Almond Cookies

Almond, Coconut, & Maple Cookies
(makes 12, 2-in cookies)

  • ½ c almond butter
  • ½ c almond mash left over from making Sweetened Almond Milk
    • (almond milk: 16 oz. raw almonds, ¼ c coconut chips, & 1 tbsp good maple syrup – let sit completely covered with water for 24 hours – blend completely, then strain through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve for almond milk. Save the leftover mash for these cookies)
  • ¼ c coconut flour
  • ¼ c good maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together until incorporated, only about a minute. Using spoons, or a small ice cream scoop, spoon onto parchment paper or a silicone mat on a half-sheet pan.  Push down to make the cookies even.  Top with a sprinkle of sea salt, and *optional: a piece of roasted coconut.

Bake until golden brown and crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside, about 25 minutes. Let cool, serve, and devour.

Enjoy!

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