Lemongrass Chicken & A “Wish it was Summer” Cocktail

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Chicken thighs marinated in coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass.

I almost titled this “Mother Nature is a bitch” but I didn’t want to get on her bad side.

See, I’m a summer person; I tend to daydream about sunshine from October all way until June. So it’s no surprise that last week my mind was on white sandy beaches when Portland got buried under 7 inches of snow.

Within the first hour of “Snowmageddon,” most of Portland was in a panic. People left work in droves, restaurants closed and the roads were flooded with cars as everyone tried to make it home before the worst of the storm hit.

I, on the other hand, was simply mad.

Sure snow can be pretty, but come on — I got through all of December and January marveling at how mild the weather was only to let my guard down in February. It was just cruel, and the cruelness continued for three days, ending with a stint of freezing rain that coated the streets in a layer of ice.

And even as the days finally warmed up and the snow began to melt, I continued to give in to thoughts of tropical beaches, palm trees and fancy umbrella drinks. It was not a good mental path to go down when the city you live in is covered in dirty slush.

But it did inspire me to use some tropical ingredients in my dinner — bringing a small ray of sunshine into my life. This coconut, lemongrass and ginger chicken is a recipe from the Bon Appetit Food Lovers Cleanse — one I tried out back in January and liked so much I made again. I paired it with a gin cocktail (the Rubies & Thorns, also from the FLC 2014) simply because snow makes me want to drink.

The chicken is incredibly easy to make and with a tweak or two will end up on my menu rotation for sure. First tweak: I’m not huge on boneless skinless thighs, the texture is just a bit stringy to me. After trying this recipe twice, I’ve decided future versions will need to be made with either a bone-in skin-on thigh or just a breast, if I’m trying for a lower calorie meal.

I also think it needed a few squeezes of lime to brighten things up.

Besides that I think this dish is a winner. The lemongrass and ginger, mixed with a dash of turmeric, add plenty of spark and even just a few hours in the marinade was enough to impart good flavor into the meat.

The cocktail is also simple — and beautiful in its simplicity. Though it only calls for a half of an ounce of gin, it tasted just as good even better with a full shot poured in. The thyme simple syrup adds the depth it needs to be special.

Together this dinner certainly worked at cheering me up!

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Marinated chicken thighs

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Rubies & Thorns (Blood orange juice, lemon thyme simple and a touch of gin)

Heart on a String: A sweetly simple sign of love

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It’s funny the way that holiday decorations can instantly bring me to a happy place. In December, the stress of holiday traveling melts away when I see my childhood stocking (made by my mother years ago) hung over the fireplace. In college, I remember the sense of connection and solace when my friends and I would do silly things like paint Easter eggs together or decorate our dorm rooms with hand-print turkeys. It made being away from home a little easier.

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Seeing this vase makes me feel like I’m home.

Logically, it doesn’t make much sense because growing up I was never at my grandparents’ house this time of year — I was always in school. Instead they would fly to Alaska (on alternate years) to visit my brother and me for our birthdays. I was oblivious to the whole pussy willow/candy heart tradition until I was living in Portland and began spending my birthday weekends with them in Tacoma. Yet, there’s still a nostalgic feeling attached to those little gummy hearts.This is how I feel every February when I go up to my grandma’s house for my birthday and see a familiar white vase on the table, full of pussy willows and dangling red heart candies. I feel like a kid again, like I’ve come home from camp or a weekend slumber party.

Maybe it’s because the story connected to the vase and its enticing sweets is so familiar. Every year I hear about my uncle, who in his younger days used to pull all the hearts off their strings, leaving behind the empty circles of thread as evidence. My grandma loves to tell me this story and honestly, every year I enjoy hearing her recount the memory. It makes me feel connected knowing that traditions (along with having a sweet tooth) remain a constant in my family.

My older cousin, before he moved to Texas, also employed my uncle’s technique, stripping away the hearts and leaving the thread behind. Conversely, my personal (and more ladylike, I might add) strategy is to take the whole thing off, eating the candy, tucking the string in my pocket and leaving no trace behind.

However, for the sake of this picture and to reassure my grandma that indeed her candies are being appreciated, I did pull one lone heart off its tether. I’d say I ate it for the family members who weren’t present to celebrate Valentines Day, but for the sake of honesty, I’ll admit I was just feeling snacky.

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Baked Taquitos and Misadventures with DayQuil

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Corn tortillas stuffed with beer-braised pork, 3 cheeses and green onions. Served with sour cream and a Brussels sprout, radish and sprouted mung bean slaw

I have no problem admitting that I only watch the Superbowl for the commercials and the food. This year the hitch in that giddy up was that I’ve been sick for more than a week and didn’t feel like going anywhere. I also didn’t feel like inviting anyone over — that would prevent my husband and I from spending all day on the couch in pajamas under a pile of blankets and kitties (which basically describes all of my favorite Sundays, sick or not).

So I took the anti-social and lazy way out. I planned an easy all-day menu for two based around a Mexican theme and starring one main protein — beer-braised carnitas.

A petite pork butt (around 1.5 pounds) came into play and using this super simple recipe from Bon Appetite, I braised it with dried chiles, beer and garlic. It was pretty much all I could handle in my cold medicine haze.

Fun tangent: I realized while braising the pork that my camera battery was dead so I charged it up. Once it was charged I removed it and…did something. I can’t remember what but the next day I looked everywhere for my battery. I checked the camera (of course), the floor, shelves nearby. Everywhere. After an hour I gave up and reached for my backpack, thinking that maybe I would feel good enough to bike to work the next day. In the pocket, there was my battery. No rhyme, no reason. Just serious DayQuil fog. (And no I didn’t end up biking.)

Good news is, even if you are so drugged up that you get lost while driving to work (yes, this happened), you can still make this pork. Even better news — it’s delicious!

Word to the wise, recipe reviewers recommend reducing the salt by…a lot. I heeded their advice, cutting back considerably, though I did end up adding more salt at the end. Matter of taste, I’m sure, but it’s easier to add than to take away so I’m happy I went that route.

So once I had all this beautifully melty braised pork — what did I do with it?

The first dish of the day consisted of these tasty little treats, which are still fantastic despite being baked instead of fried. And again, so easy!

Stuff warmed corn tortillas with meat, cheese, onions, whatever. Roll up. Brush with a little oil and bake until crispy. Eat, eat and eat. You may think they would dry out but honestly, the pork is so juicy that I thought they were pretty perfect.

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Baked Carnitas Taquitos, Feeds 2

  • 1/4 of the recipe for beer-braised pork butt (or 2 cups pulled pork)
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I mixed sharp cheddar with cojita and pepperjack)
  • less than a 1/4 cup green onions, minced
  • 1/4 cup sour cream divided
  • handful of cilantro, chopped
  • squeeze of lime
  • salsa for serving

1. Warm the tortilla enough so they don’t break while rolling. You can wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave or heat a skillet with oil and heat up individually. (I’ll let you speculate on which method I chose.)

2. Mix pork with a few tablespoons of sour cream (extra moistness), cilantro and lime juice.

3. Stuff tortillas with pork, cheese and onions.

4. Place in baking dish, brush lightly with oil and bake a 350 degrees until crunchy (15-20 minutes).

5. Serve with extra sour cream and salsa for dipping!

Sprout Slaw

Mix shaved raw Brussels sprouts with equal parts sprouted lentils or sprouted mung beans. Add some thinly sliced radishes and chopped green onions. Dress with a vinaigrette of your choosing. I made a simple one with minced garlic, lime and orange juice, olive oil and lime zest.

As for what my lunch and dinner consisted of, I’ll let Instagram tell the story.

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Nachos with Carnitas, Black Beans and Radishes

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DayQuil or no, a margarita was a necessity.

Sticking to a cleanse is easier when you’re eating steak!

 

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Seared Striploin, Orange-Parsley Chimichurri with Roasted Beets and Carrots.

As you all may know, I’ve been participating in the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse. The refined-sugar-and flour-free eating plan has resulted in several dreams involving fudge and bread but so far I’ve managed to make it through without a single cheat. Of course, it’s fairly easy to stick to a cleanse that involves (at least a little) red meat.

Yes, this beautiful steak dinner was still part of the 2014 FLC and it was so satisfying it nearly made me forget about wanting a beer. Nearly.

The recipe was Hanger steak with Orange Oregano Chimichurri but I made a few substitutions. The first issue was that I hadn’t bought hanger steaks from work and trying to find them at the nearest grocery store was totally unsuccessful. I turned instead to another steak known for its leanness, the striploin. In the chimichurri, I used some home-dried thyme instead of dried oregano because that’s what I had on hand. I also added a bit of mint because I live on the edge.

To accompany the steak I served some simple roasted carrots and a salad of mixed greens, roasted beets and a teeny tiny bit of chevre. I figured since the FLC allows for a bit of cheese every few days this would be the day to do it. Beets love cheese — goat cheese, blue cheese, feta. They aren’t too fickle. And the garlic-herb chevre that I bought brought extra flavor to the salad.

The chimichurri was fantastic — definitely the key to making the steak more exciting. It’s herby, citrusy from both the orange juice and the orange zest and packs a garlicky punch. So many good things all at once. (By the way, the mint was great added in and I’d totally recommend it.) The chimichurri would be equally delicious on chicken but it was outstanding mixed into a bowl of quinoa and roasted veggies the next day.

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Orange Parsley Chimichurri

Once the chimichurri is made, the meal is pretty much ready to go. Season and sear the steak, rest and slice. Then get ready to sauce it up:

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And enjoy!

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Steak w. Orange Parsley Chimichurri

It’s January, cue the new year’s resolution clichés!

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Butter bean salad with red pepper relish and roasted veggies

Eating healthy is the most common new year’s resolution in the country*. It’s probably also the first one to fall by the wayside (I blame you leftover Christmas cookies!). That doesn’t prevent me from making a little extra effort to watch my eating habits after the holidays though. All of that gluttony (pork belly, cookies, and marshmallows, oh my!) has a way of making me look forward to salads and vegetables.

Though I indulge in my fair share of beer and foie gras, I actually tend to eat fairly healthy year-round — my meals include a lot of farro, raw veggies and chicken. But the thought of doing something like the Whole 30 is just not really my speed — too much pressure.

However, a few weeks ago I read about the Food Lover’s Cleanse, a 14-day eating plan that Bon Appetit publishes every January. And since you all know how much I love BA, it seemed like the perfect thing for me to try, especially since I only have to stick to it for two weeks!

The basics are no refined sugars or flours, very little dairy (wah!), plenty of lean proteins, veggies and whole grains. Honestly the dairy is the hardest part for me — I love yogurt, cheese and milk. But considering how much cheese I packed away in the month of December, two weeks without it is probably not a bad thing.

I started by preparing a big batch of sprouted lentils, a favorite of mine, and quinoa just so I would have them on hand. Then I blanched or roasted a variety of vegetables: sunchokes, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli rabe and delicata squash.

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my sprouted lentils — nutty, fresh and delicious

And so far so good! Though I did dream about eating Goldfish crackers last night. Hm.

I have made slight changes to the BA recipes, basically just mixing up the way that I incorporate ingredients depending on my mood and what I have on hand. Here’s what I made for dinner last night: Butter beans mixed with BA’s red pepper and walnut relish, roasted veggies and arugula topped with pork tenderloin.

This is not too far from the butter bean salad that I love to make and with the roasted pork it was enough to fill me up.

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This would have made a nice light lunch…

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Hearty enough for dinner…

I’ve found the relish is good on many things — scrambled eggs, roasted chicken or simply mixed into farro or quinoa. It’s tangy from the lemon and balsamic vinegar and the silky peppers are boosted tremendously by the crunch of the toasted walnuts. The mint brings it everything together with extra freshness.

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Red pepper and walnut relish

Butter Bean Salad with Pork Tenderloin (serves 2)

  • 1 can butter beans — well rinsed
  • Large clove garlic — minced
  • Small shallot — minced
  • 1 cup roasted cauliflower
  • 1 cup roasted sunchokes — optional
  • 1/2 recipe of Red Pepper and Walnut Relish — follow link for recipe
  • 12-16 oz piece of pork tenderloin
  • 1 cup arugula, spinach or baby kale

Mix the first 6 ingredients together and let sit at room temperature.

Season the pork tenderloin well with salt and pepper, seared on medium-high heat and then roast in the oven (at 375-400 degrees) until done. Let rest and then slice.

Start with a bed of greens, top generously with butter bean salad and then add pork.

* totally made up statistic but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true

Christmas Peking Duck: When no traditions lead to new traditions…

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Peking duck, steamed buns and accompaniments

Usually there are many traditions that I look forward to at Christmas. There’s the smorgasbord my family puts out on Christmas Eve where I double up on the potato sausage and avoid the pickled herring. There’s deciphering my grandma’s occasionally evil gifts (sometimes she makes us translate Swedish or sends us on treasure hunts) and seeing who found the almond in the rice pudding, earning themselves a year of good luck.

This year, with the way the calendar worked out, it made more sense for me to visit my family the weekend before Christmas. On Sunday afternoon we set up the smorgasbord — loaded up with all of my favorites — and opened our gifts to each other. There were Christmas cookies, card games, my mom’s cranberry bread and plenty of wine. It was lovely.

And when it was over, it felt like Christmas was over — even though it was only Dec. 22.

With family and traditions over with, my husband and I spent our first Christmas ever home alone. Deciding to make the best of it, we thought we’d take a less traditional route to our Christmas dinner: honey glazed Peking duck, steamed buns and roasted pork belly.

After all no matter where you are and who you’re with, good food is a must for any holiday.

We started the process by air-drying our pekin duck for two days. (note: Pekin duck is a breed, Peking duck is a dish.) Basically this means we left it unwrapped on a rack in our fridge for a few days. This dries out the moisture in the skin allowing for more crispy goodness — the best part of any duck.

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Air-dried pekin duck

Next we brushed the inside and outside of the duck with a glaze of honey, soy, ginger, five-spice and Mandarin orange juice.

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Brushing on the glaze

We let the duck come to room temperature for a few hours before putting it in the oven. It roasted for an hour or so, getting a fresh coat of glaze every fifteen minutes until it looked like this:

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Next we gathered together all of the fixin’s: cucumbers and carrots pickled in rice wine vinegar, kim chi Brussels sprouts and hoisin sauce. Oh yes, and the co-stars of the show.

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Roasted pork belly — rubbed with sugar and salt

And the steamed buns, straight from the Momofuku cookbook:

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Rolling the dough — recipe makes about 45 buns

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Buns right out of the steamer — shiny and puffed

Everything came together in a pretty magical way. The two of us ate until we were stuffed, sipping on glasses of pink bubbles and pushing our cats away from the duck.

Hopefully next year I’ll be able to figure out a way to spend Christmas with my family. But if that doesn’t work out perhaps my husband and I will give our Chinese-style Christmas another shot. We don’t have any traditions that are just ours so maybe it’s time to start!

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Cheers to a fabulous Christmas feast!

Homemade Quince Paste: Making cheese plates happy

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While I often tell my husband that the last thing we need is another cookbook, I’ll admit I didn’t put up too much resistance when he offered to buy me a copy of America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. I had flipped through it briefly at the Book Larder in Seattle and was immediately smitten.

It’s got recipes for just about everything you can imagine: bacon jam, corn chips, yogurt, beer, fresh chorizo and so much more. Really, it’s almost overwhelming.

But I knew at once what recipe I would try first, seeing as I had five quince staring at me from the kitchen counter. My husband had bought them at the season’s last farmer’s market and we had yet to do anything with them (I could practically sense them judging me). It was time for them to meet their maker become delicious quince paste.

Since I had a weekend plan to cook with my friend DB — we were making candied orange peels and Parisian gnocchi — I figured one more culinary project couldn’t hurt. And the good thing about the recipe, besides the fact that it’s pretty fool proof, is that it’s easy to do while doing other things.

Quince paste is also great for holiday gift giving so if you’re a total procrastinator or have a cheese lover in your life, consider giving them a wedge of this. It’s a great accompaniment to a cheese plate and also will last for up to 3 months in the fridge. Hard to beat that!

Start by cooking the fruit down until tender, puree, strain and cook a second time with sugar. Pour into a pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. To get the exact recipe, order a copy of the cookbook! To see a fairly similar one online, click here! The main difference is that ours doesn’t have any vanilla and we passed the puree through a fine chinois to get rid of any lumps before cooking it with the sugar.

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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Meringue Cookies

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Meringue in the wild!

Like many new projects I tackle on a whim, these peppermint meringues were found on Pinterest. They were just too pretty too pass up and I happened to have egg whites left over from making ice cream for Thanksgiving (we made a goat cheese ice cream and a straight up old-fashioned vanilla — both were awesome!). I decided it was a perfect time to use them up and cross a cookie off my holiday “must bake” list.

Meringues are super easy to make and I can totally, absolutely appreciate a cookie that you can let bake for two hours and not have to think about. In fact, the only things you have to worry about with meringues are having any fat in the egg whites when you whip them (bad news) or over/under whipping them. Happily, I avoided both of those issues and my cookies turned out pretty darn adorable.

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I like to do different sizes so people can have “just a nibble.”

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It’s like a meringue mountain range!

However, if you click on the link you’ll notice the original post/recipe has pretty red-and-white swirled cookies while mine are just maybe faintly tinged pink white. Well, this is one of the those times where you read something over and over and somehow it just doesn’t sink in. Basically I was supposed to paint the inside of the pasty bag with red food coloring to get those lovely little candy cane stripes. Instead I painted the end of the pastry tip.

That will not get you pretty swirls. It will get you this:

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I’m a bit unimpressed.

*Sigh*

So after two cookies I gave up and just piped them sans food dye. It wasn’t until the next night when I read the recipe again (for like the 4th time!) that it sank in — I was totally doing it wrong. I still have no idea how I misread that but I’m over it now. Kind of.

Since my cookies tasted just fine but lacked a little finesse, I figured a nice chocolate dip would add some flair. And if I were to dip them in chocolate, it would only makes sense to sprinkle them with peppermint, right?

I thought so.

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And I have to say — I think I’m in love. Not only as they super cute (and festive) but they taste delicious. They are crunchy and sweet with a hint of peppermint. The flavor is not overwhelming which makes the sprinkle of peppermint even better. And I used dark chocolate to coat them so the sweetness is slightly reduced.

Seriously. These things are magic. I just look at them and feel happy.

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As you can see I tried several different “dipping” methods — and I pretty much love them all!

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Fully chocolate dipped!

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I love this one!

Herb & Garlic Rubbed Poussin with Pistachio Relish

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One of my favorite work stories is the day I got a call from a guy who wanted to buy some possum meat. We get that type of call all the time — people looking for beaver, lion and squirrel — so this request was not too strange. I told him we did not sell possum, expecting that to be the end of it.

Instead he started to argue with me, saying that he was looking at our price list online and possum was on there as being a “stock item.” Baffled, I asked him for the item number. He gave it to me and I could barely contain my laughter as I said, “Sir, that’s not possum, it’s poussin — baby chickens.”

That happened years ago but it still makes me giggle.

For anyone else unfamiliar with poussin, they are basically a chicken a few weeks younger than a game hen. Once processed and packed, they weigh about 15-17 oz, making them ideal for a one-bird-per-person dinner.

I rarely ever buy them, but I had a recipe that I wanted to try out and it called for 2 each 3# chickens. Since I was only cooking for two people, I figured two poussin would work just fine.

The recipe was Roasted Chicken with Pistachio Salsa, originally from the June 2012 issue of Bon Appetit. Given the “meh” reviews on the corn and peppers part of the recipe, I decide to focus instead on the chicken and the salsa since that sounded the most interesting.

Although — tangent alert — I just really don’t get why you would call chopped nuts with chives, lemon zest and olive oil a salsa? For blogging purposes, I’ve renamed it pistachio relish. It’s not quite a pesto, but perhaps that would be even more fitting? I don’t know. Am I overthinking it too much? Probably.

Moving on.

The poussin sat overnight in a marinade of oil, herbs and garlic. The next day they smelled great. The sage and rosemary in the mix really worked some wonders.

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Herb & Garlic Rubbed Poussin

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I like to call this photo “Dancing Poussin.”

While they cooked on their adorable little roasters (an old gift from my brother), I made the salsa relish which was a quick and painless process:

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Toasted and chopped pistachios

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With lemon zest and minced chives added in…

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Finally add plenty of good quality EVOO and season with salt and pepper

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Yum!

The poussin were done cooking in about 35 minutes and dinner was ready!

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I liked this recipe quite a bit considering how simple it was. The marinade for the chicken was nothing unique but it was flavorful and easy to throw together. The pistachio relish was what made the dinner different — in a good way, of course.

While I certainly enjoy pistachios, other than occasionally using them in biscotti I tend to just eat them right out of their salt-roasted shells. This relish was a savory take on them that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. The subtle fruitiness of the nuts went really well with the lemon and chives — it was a strangely lovely melding. The amount of oil may seem a bit overboard but it infuses with the flavors of the other ingredients making each bite delicious.

The relish would probably be tasty over fish or some other grilled meats, but I can say for sure it is good mixed in with leftover farro, drizzled over a “big salad” and spooned over roasted veggies.

The Obsession Continues: Apple Cider Caramels

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Apple Cider Caramels

I have been on cider bender the past few months. Since early October my fridge has contained no less than one half-gallon of fresh apple cider, purchased anywhere from Farmer’s Markets to the grocery store. I’ve drank it straight, mulled with Applejack and used it for various cooking endeavors, like this brined pork roast.

However, the best creation I made are these apple cider caramels from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine. They tasted (depending on which friend of mine you asked) like caramel apple pops, apple fritters or candied apples. To me they were just as I imagined,  a perfect combination of the spiced cider flavor — cloves, cinnamon and tart apple — and creamy decadent caramel.

They were also luxuriously soft. While they’d hold their shape in the refrigerator, once popped in your mouth, they would melt almost instantly. They were so good I had to fight my natural instinct to hoard them and instead manged to share them with co-workers, friends and even some of my favorite customers in Seattle.

My friend Ariel loved them so much I think I have to make a batch just for her and her husband to enjoy. I gave her a few to take home and got this hilarious text message later that night: “Holy sheep shit, Batman” is what Eric said after trying a bite of one of your caramels. Now that’s a compliment, people!

Anyways, onto the process: I won’t say these delicious little guys are quick to throw together. Planning ahead is definitely necessary. Reducing the cider took about an hour and getting the caramel to the right temperature took at least that long. But the end results are so, so worth it. Also I only made a half batch and still had plenty to share. If you want to give these out as holiday gifts, a full batch will make around 120-150 caramels!

And a little hint: I used an already spiced cider for my reduction. I was worried the spices would become too intense, but other recipe reviews had mentioned they had wanted a more “cider” flavor so I went with it. And it was a great decision — the spices came through loud and clear but were not overwhelming.

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The mixture: cream, butter, sugar, cider reduction and sweetened condensed milk

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Waiting to hit 245 degrees was a long, slow process…

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Slab of caramel

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Such a pretty color — and you can see speckles of the spices in the candy.

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Can’t wait to start batch #2!

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Some to give away, some for me to eat!