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Not Without Salt by Ashley Rodriguez - 7h ago

“Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”

The first time I saw our house the lilac tree in the front yard was in full bloom. I noticed her scent before the blooms reaching toward the sun overwhelmed me. We walked through a soft cloud of perfume before we entered the front door and I truly believe that that tree is a big reason why tears filled my eyes and I knew this was our home.

The previous owner was a masterful gardener. From what the neighbors have told me she spent many hours, almost daily, outside tending to her masterpiece. In the letter I wrote to her attempting to woo her to us in a very crowded market in Seattle, I thanked her for the care she put into the garden and I promised to do my best to continue to care for and nurture the garden we hoped to inherit.

I’ve watched the lilac tree bloom for three seasons now. I’ve nervously pruned the branches not knowing exactly what I was doing, hoping to encourage new growth and trim off the old. In early spring I watch the buds emerge and I count down the days until the flowers bloom with a giddiness often witnessed in my children before the holidays. The buds signal the end of a long, cold season. They remind us of the cyclical way of things; how the earth moves and knows just what to do even when we attempt to feel a sense of control and end up feeling lost. It’s a reminder that even in the harried moments of our day-to-day there is a constant turning, an ever present schedule that exists even when we don’t.

In years past I’ve simply brought in the blooms to scent the house and bring the cheeriness of the vibrant purple hue to the dining table. This year I wanted to harness that intoxicating perfume that charmed us to this home. I wanted to see the blooms as art and ingredient and continue to use this gift throughout the season.

I’ve known that lilacs are edible for a couple years but as I’ve fallen deeper in love with wild ingredients I have gotten more and more curious and adventurous. So this year I packed some flowers in sugar, infused them into honey and dried others along with nettles and spruce for a fragrant and medicinal tea. The tea became gifts as I’ve been practicing reciprocity thanks to the beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass quoted above, and the honey will be a daily sweet reminder of lilac season.

Out my window the lilacs are gone. Their blooms are now crisp and brown. I’m fighting the feeling akin to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Did I enjoy them enough? Did I thank them enough? Did I breathe in that sweet perfume enough?

It was enough. And they will be back next year.

Today’s post is not necessarily a recipe, although I do hope you have the opportunity to enjoy lilac infused honey, but more than that I hope it serves as a reminder to keep your eyes open and remember the gifts the earth gives. They are given for us to enjoy with the responsibility of reciprocity and nurturing.

Lilac Honey
Ingredients

1/2 cup lilac flowers

2 cups light honey (such as wildflower)

Instructions

Add the honey to an airtight jar. Cover and store in a cool place for 2 to 3 weeks. Strain out the flowers.

Use in tea, over ice cream, in desserts or over fresh strawberries with mascarpone.

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*This year I’ve teamed with California Walnuts to bring you several walnut studded recipes that I’m certain you will love. I mean have you seen our walnut cake?! Walnuts are full of good fats (2.5g/oz omega-3 ALA) and also offer protein (4g/oz), fiber (2g/oz) and antioxidants.* But my favorite thing about walnuts? They’re delicious. As always anything you see and read here are my opinions, words and imagery but we so appreciate you supporting the brands that support the work we do. Great partnerships equals many more great recipes for all of us.

Things in the Rodriguez household have gotten a bit more complicated when it comes to food. Our tender-hearted 10 year old decided he wanted to be a pescatarian after studying about the impact much of the meat industry has on our environment. While Gabe has been put on a low-fat diet (which really is against everything I stand for – perhaps a bit dramatic, but I really am a strong believer in fat) for health related issues. And for myself, after months of feeling lethargic, foggy brained, tired, depressed and anxious I got a full lab done which revealed I’m deficient in so many many areas.

Now all of this is quite possibly more information than you bargained for if you’ve simply landed here for a recipe but if you’ve been here for longer than ten minutes you know by know that we go there. While this is indeed a food blog, what we talk about here are the things I imagine we’d discuss while sitting around my dining room table.

I’m incredibly grateful for our health, and all the things we are dealing with regarding our diets can easily be remedied, but I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t rattled me a bit. I’ve never been one to cook several different meals for dinner for the sake of satisfying each individual in the family, but I’ve yet to really reconcile what these changes will look like at the table.

But right now it’s just me at the table. It’s lunchtime, the pescatarian is at school (although he would happily eat what’s in front of me right now), and the low-fat dieter is away working. Lunch is my time to satisfy my own needs  both for nourishment and pleasure. And while sometimes I admit, lunch for one is a scoop of peanut butter and a banana, today it’s a thick slice of homemade walnut bread still warm from the oven topped with blue cheese whipped until a blue streaked cloud forms then topped with a sweet, tart and licorice tinged slaw heavily laced with dill and lemon. This is lunch for one, and it is healing for so many reasons.

Walnut Tartine with Whipped Blue Cheese and Fennel Apple Slaw
Ingredients

2 thick-cut slices of walnut bread

4 ounces blue cheese, room temperature

2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 green apple, cut into matchsticks

1/4 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped dill

Zest and juice from 1 small lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt & pepper

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Instructions

In the bowl of a food processor combine the blue cheese and cream cheese. Process until creamy and light. You may need to scrape down the bowl a couple of times to make sure everything is well combined.In a medium bowl combine the apple, fennel, scallion, dill, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and a hearty pinch of salt (I like flake salt here for the crunch) and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.Slather the bread (toasted or untoasted – the choice is yours) with half of the blue cheese mixture then top with slaw and walnuts. Enjoy immediately. Save the rest for tomorrow’s lunch.

Toasted Walnut BreadFrom Date Night IN

3 1/4 cups/1 pound all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups/ 400 g lukewarm water

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon yeast

1 cup / 3 ounces toasted walnuts

In a large bowl stir together the flour, yeast, salt, 1 3/4 cups/ 400 g lukewarm water, and walnuts. It will be slumped and very wet.Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let sit overnight. You can also refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days.Grab a bowl a bit larger than the volume of the bread dough. Lay a clean towel in the bowl and cover the towel generously with flour.Dump your dough onto a heavily floured surface and add more flour to the top of the dough so your hands don’t stick. The wetness of the dough creates a light and almost velvety texture to the final bread but don’t be afraid of using flour here so you aren’t covered in wet dough.Form the dough into a round by gently tucking the edges under while turning the dough.Lay the round into the bowl with the floured cloth so the seam is exposed. Cover the dough and let rise for an hour or until it feels airy, light and slowly springs back when gently pressed.  While it rises, place a 3 or 4 quart oven safe lidded pot in the oven and preheat to 450°F for one hour.Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven. Place the round of bread into the pan seam side down.There’s no way to avoid this being a messy and awkward step. I assure you that even after dozens of homemade loaves I still look a bit disheveled in this.Give the pan a gentle tap on the counter to distribute the dough. Cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow and looming when tapped.

Remove the loaf from the pan. If you want a deeper set and more intensely caramelized crust you can return the loaf to the oven outside of its pan for another 5 to 10 minutes.

*2 Walnuts offer a variety of antioxidants (3.721 mmol/oz), including polyphenols (69.3 ± 16.5 μmol catechin equivalents/g) and gamma tocopherol (5.91 mg/ounce). The data for antioxidant capacity of foods generated by test-tube methods cannot be extrapolated to human effects. Clinical trials to test benefits of dietary antioxidants have produced mixed results.

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Not Without Salt by Ashley Rodriguez - 1w ago

This morning I read Sara’s latest post on Sprouted Kitchen. It’s a beautiful reflection on 10 years of blogging and it made me realize that I’m pretty sure my 10 year anniversary came and went without fanfare. But it’s worth noting (as Sara did beautifully). This space, as we all do, has evolved. Some of its evolution has been intentional, some of it has not. As blogs have taken a dip in popularity and prominence I’ve stepped away from this space as other areas in my life have taken precedence. But I always come back here because this is where it all began for me.

In this space I found myself. I found my love of food writing, recipe development and food photography. This space taught me how to do those things. In the midst of the extremely challenging season of raising three young children this space was mine. It was my sanctuary. My creative place where I could interact with other adults and you all encouraged me in this work when the rest of my day offered very little encouragement.

While other blogs lay abandoned, I don’t want that for this space because I need it. I’m not sure how many of you are still here (I’m incredibly grateful for each and every one) but this space has always been incredibly personal for me. It’s where I sort through my thoughts, where I’ve shared incredibly intimate parts of my life and where I’ve talked about food and life intermingling. For awhile I backed away from vulnerability here as I recovered from an intense vulnerability hangover after Date Night In came out. And even today as I write this I battle the inner critic who is continually telling me to just get to the damn recipe. But this place has never just been about the recipes has it? It’s always been about the lives around the food. It’s our dining table conversations. It’s you and I at the table surrounded by food that reminds us that beauty abounds in this broken world. We talk about the brokenness and the goodness. We raise a glass and toast to our humanity. In all its imperfect glory.

I am not the same person I was when I began this blog. And I won’t be the same person five or ten years from now when I hope this place is still a part of my life.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this but I’m here, I hope you are too and I’m not going anywhere. Thank you for being here, for supporting this work. You all have made my passion my career. Whoa. Because of you all I get to wake up and work my ass off providing for my family doing the work I love to do and I truly feel I was created to do. Good sweet Lord, thank you.

Now let’s talk about this freaking salad because I have many people who are waiting for this recipe. I’ve made it at least a dozen times this season. Always without a recipe because that’s my favorite way to cook – relying on instinct, being present and tasting all along the way. But I come here to share this recipe because it has brought me great joy and that needs to be shared.

It’s an hommage to the humble pea in all its splendor.  English peas, sugar snap peas and pea vines mingle with herbs, lemon, olive oil, pistachios and pecorino to honor spring and the peas that are among the first to sprout. It’s simple in execution and ingredients and yet people believe magic is involved. The magic is in the beauty of the ingredients themselves. Our job is simple.

Feel free to use this recipe as a guide and let your own tastebuds guide you. Trust yourself.

Spring Pea Salad
Ingredients

6 ounces pea vines

Olive oil

Sea salt

2 cups thinly sliced sugar snap peas

2 cups freshly shucked or frozen peas, blanched

1/4 cup chopped dill

1/2 cup mint leaves

1/2 cup finely grated pecorino

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup pistachios

Flake salt

Instructions

Toss the pea vines in a bit of olive oil and sea salt then grill or broil until charred in parts, about 3-4 minutes.

In a large bowl combine the sugar snap peas, blanched peas, herbs and pecorino. Toss with olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir in the pistachios and finish with flake salt. Some freshly cracked black pepper is nice too. Taste and adjust as you see fit.

Serve.

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*This post was created in partnership with Barilla. They have been masters of pasta for over 140 years and since pasta is one of my absolute favorites (and always a go-to for our weeknight dinners) I am so thrilled to team up with them for 2019 to bring you some of my favorite pasta recipes. The pastas used in the competition were from the new Collezione line which uses the traditional bronze plates for extruding giving the pasta the perfect “al dente” texture for sauce that holds on tight. Today I get the pleasure of sharing TWO of the winning recipes from the 2019 Barilla Pasta World Championships. 

If you invite me to an event where my job is to eat eight plates of pasta I will so be there. And that’s just what I got to do while attending the Barilla Pasta World Championships.

While eight chefs feverishly worked to create what they would hope to be an award winning plate of pasta I went around the room, took in the sights and smells, shot a few photos and eagerly awaited the time to eat. The task was simple enough; create a memorable pasta dish that would woo the incredible panel of judges (including the editor of Food & Wine magazine and Lorenzo Boni, executive chef of Barilla America). Of course we all know that simple food is often the most difficult especially since so many of us have such fond memories at the table with heaping piles of pasta. Is there anything that quite comforts the way a slurping of spaghetti noodles does or how cheese perfectly tucks into the crevices on penne? It’s what I grab when I’m eager to get to the table with my family without spending too much time in the kitchen.

Some of the chefs went all out by meticulously dicing bacon for an eggless seafood-based carbonara, or blew my mind by smoking the pasta water (totally recreating this by the way) while others stayed classic and simple making a flawless arrabiata or pistachio pesto. And of course there were truffles, quite possibly my favorite thing to put on pasta.

In the end it was the Pistachio Pesto Buccatini that won the heart of the judges and I love that it did. Of course it was completely delicious but it was also quite possibly the most simple of the dishes. The winning dish came from the youngest contestant, Chef Sean Turner.

Since the contest Chef Sean’s recipe has now become a staple in our house. The ingredients are so often on hand and even if they aren’t I’m able to find alternatives that can easily be substituted. My latest rendition used dill and mint in place of the parsley and basil. And pecorino stood in for the Parmesan. Have you run out of Buccatini? Penne makes a fine substitute.

Get ready to cheer Chef Sean Turner on when he goes on to compete at the Barilla Pasta World Championship in October where he will compete with chefs from around the world in Paris.  Until then try these incredible recipes from the winning chefs and find your champion.

People’s Choice Winning Recipe:

Ocean’s “Carbonara”

From Chef Brandon Rosen

Ingredients

4 cups refined coconut oil, divided

1 lb. raw applewood smoked bacon, finely chopped, divided

1 bulb fennel, chopped, fronds reserved

8 large shallots, chopped

1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped

1 head garlic, chopped

10 whole black peppercorns, crushed

1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

48 Littleneck clams, scrubbed well

2 cups Chardonnay

1 large head yellow or orange cauliflower

1 oz. dried Italian nettles or dried seaweed sheets (nori)

5 large sunchokes, very thinly sliced

3 large Meyer lemons, zested, segments removed

1 box (16 oz.) Barilla® Collezione Spaghetti

8 fresh farm raised scallops (10-20 count)

24-32 frilly mustard green leaves

3 oz. farm-raised sustainable California caviar

1 small piece cured fish roe (bottarga), such as Sardinian gold

Instructions

Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in large deep skillet on medium heat. Add 3/4 of the bacon, fennel (except fronds), shallots, parsley, garlic, and black and red pepper. Sauté until bacon is browned. Add clams and wine; cover. Cook until clams are completely open (discard any unopened clams). Remove clams from pan with tongs. Continue cooking broth, uncovered, while preparing remaining ingredients.

Use box grater to grate cauliflower down to the stems. Arrange on rimmed baking sheet. Add a small amount of water. Bake until softened. Use fine grater to grate cauliflower stems; set aside.Cook remaining bacon in small skillet on medium heat until crisp. Drain; set aside.

Use coffee/spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind nettles into fine powder. Heat remaining oil in large saucepan to 350°

Deep fry sunchoke slices until crisp. Drain well then dust with nettle powder.

Strain clam broth; discard solids. Pour broth into blender; add cooked cauliflower. Puree until smooth; stir in lemon zest.

Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.

Return pasta to pot. Add cauliflower sauce; mix well, adding pasta water as needed to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cut scallops into small pieces. Heat some of the remaining coconut oil in medium skillet on high heat. Add scallops; cook just until seared. Add to pasta in pot. Add clams and cooked bacon. Mix gently.

Garnish each serving with lemon segments, mustard greens, caviar, grated bottarga, grated cauliflower stems, fennel fronds, and sunchoke chips.

2019 Barilla Pasta World Championship Winning Recipe

Bucatini Pistachio Pesto

From Chef Sean Turner

Ingredients

1 box (12 oz.) Barilla® Collezione Bucatini

2 oz. lemon juice

4 oz. basil leaves

2.5 oz. Italian parsley leaves

2.5 oz. fennel fronds

2.5 oz. diced shallots

5 oz. shelled pistachios, toasted, plus additional for garnish

5 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for garnish

Kosher salt

12 oz. extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions
  1. Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain, reserving pasta cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, pulse lemon juice, herbs and shallots in food processor until almost a paste, scraping down side of bowl as needed. Add nuts, cheese and salt. Pulse until no whole nuts remain. With motor running, add oil in steady stream until well blended. Season with additional salt, if desired.
  3. Transfer pesto to large deep skillet. Add 1 oz. pasta water and pasta. Toss until well coated, adding additional water as needed.
  4. Top each serving with additional cheese and nuts.

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Not Without Salt by Ashley Rodriguez - 2M ago

This post was created in partnership with California Olive Ranch. I’m thrilled to be working with them in 2019 to bring you some special recipes that highlight this beautiful olive oil. I’ve been using their olive oil for years now because they produce a high quality oil for an everyday price. Now they are working with farmers in California and around the world to source their olive oil to create the perfect blends.

As always the words, images and opinions are my own. A very hearty thanks to all of you who support the brands that support the work I do.

There is no shortage of chocolate chip anything on this blog and for that I make no apologies. In fact I’m adding another but I assure you, as with the others, they each have their place.

The purpose for the latest chocolate chip endeavor was to celebrate a birthday. Mine. And as I’m not much of a cake person I took one of my favorite treats in a different direction.

With the addition of olive oil this chocolate chip cookie/tart hybrid has a bit more of a grown up taste. It’s fruity, fragrant and hints towards the savory while still remaining distinctively classic in flavor. It is, in fact a bit cakier than how I take my cookies but that’s because I wanted to eat it with ice cream and a fork. I have my reasons.

If ice cream and forks aren’t called for these can easily be cut into bars.

I hope you enjoy this recipe no matter how you cut it.

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Tart

Makes 1 9 or 10 inch tart

Ingredients

1/4 cup California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil

2 tablespoons whole milk

1/2  cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Vanilla Ice Cream, for serving

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9 or 10 – inch tart pan.

In a large bowl combine the olive oil, milk, sugar and vanilla. Stir well to combine. Add the egg and mix until completely combined.

Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir until just combined. Finally, stir in the chocolate.

Press the wet batter evenly into the tart pan.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden around the edge but perhaps still a bit gooey internally.

Cool on the tray for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

 
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Not Without Salt by Ashley Rodriguez - 3M ago

*This post is created in partnership with Rioja Wines. There are two things that get me real excited about these wines. First of all they are only released when they are ready to drink so I don’t have to worry about aging them (something I’ve never been very good at). And secondly they are beautiful with food. As always the words, images and recipes are mine. Thanks for supporting the brands that support the work I do here. Cheers!

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

One of the first things I do when I step into the kitchen to make dinner is to pour myself a glass of wine. This simple act goes beyond the wine itself in its significance. I watch the glass as the earthy red tint of the wine hits the bottom then dances up the sides. In that moment I slow down, become mindful of the process of cooking and attempt to shift my often distorted perspective from thinking of cooking dinner for my family as a chore to remembering it’s how I best love them. And what a gift and privilege it is to have the time and resources to do so.

Now of course this mindful moment doesn’t have to be instigated with the pouring of a glass of wine but for me it has become something sacred that pulls me into the present. Something I have been trying to do more and more lately. A moment to arrest the fretting about the past (even the past of 10 minutes ago) and to cease the fear of the future. The same intention can happen in the slicing of an onion, the process of making a cup of tea or plucking fresh herbs of their tender stems. All it requires is a brief moment to remind yourself of where you are and the gratitude to be there.

The older I get the more I realize that our life is lived in the little moments. The moments where we rest in the present.

This dinner takes about a half a glass of wine to prepare. The key to a successful stir fry to have all of your ingredients prepped before you start preheating the wok as the cooking goes quite fast, leaving little time to chop in the in between moments.

Since I’m feeding heat averse children I tend to leave out any chili and play it safe on the Sichuan peppers but you should feel free to add more based on your appreciation of heat. Also, this recipe would work well with ground chicken or pork and that would also be a nice fit with the wine.

Green Bean and Shiitake Stir Fry

Adapted from Melissa Clark via The New York Times

Ingredients

2 tablespoons neutral oil (rice bran, peanut or sunflower)

8 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 teaspoon sea salt, divided

12 ounces trimmed green beans

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon (about 5 cloves) minced garlic

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, roughly cracked in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

1 teaspoon Sichuan Peppercorns, roughly cracked in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

Rice, for serving

Instructions

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat for two minutes. Add the oil then wait another minute.

Add the shiitake mushrooms and half of the salt then sauté until deeply caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

Add the green beans, red pepper, and the remaining salt and sauté until the green beans have blistered and brightened in color, about two minutes.

Stir in the ginger, garlic, coriander and sichuan peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute more.

Finally add the vinegar, soy sauce and sugar then cook a few minutes until the liquid has nearly evaporated.

Serve while warm with rice and more soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Finish with chopped cilantro or toasted sesame seeds if desired.

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*This post was created in partnership with California Walnuts, but all opinions are my own.. I’m so excited to be bringing you some of my very favorite walnut recipes in 2019 like these candied and chocolate covered walnuts and a hearty and nutritious soup made creamy with the help of walnuts.

This month we’re celebrating this heart-healthy* nut by making a cake that will warm anybody’s heart. Too much? Wait until you see the cake.

Normally when I crave a cake I stay clear away from those towering numbers that steal the show on everyone’s Instagram feed. Perhaps it was years of making wedding cakes that turned me off of stacking cakes on cakes then frosting to a slick perfection. Or perhaps it’s because for me, when it comes to cake I like it plain and often in loaf form.

It’s no surprise to many of you that I’m more of a snack cake fan (exhibit A, B, C). The sort that slips casually onto a plate tucked next to a cup of coffee in the morning. Or the sort that is perfectly fine served on a napkin at three in the afternoon. I don’t need a show stopper, I just want a simple stunner with a hearty crumb, a tender bite and one that values flavor over beauty.

In this walnut cake, flooded with milk chocolate mousse, covered with maple cream cheese frosting and a cascading river of salted maple caramel I believe we all win. Because in all its glory this cake is indeed a stunner. But strip away the frills and you have a cake that made my Saturday morning coffee time shine.

I will say that the milk chocolate mousse, while lovely, is a step that I may skip the next time I opt for stacking this cake. Just the cake, plentifully studded with walnuts, wrapped in a lightly sweet frosting and the flood of maple caramel is quite right on it’s own. But you know, it’s good to have options.

Stacked or unstacked this cake makes hearts happy.

Walnut Cake with Milk Chocolate Mousse and Salted Maple Caramel
Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 3/4 cup whole milk

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts (plus more for finishing the cake)

Instructions

Makes two 8-inch cakes

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 3/4 cup whole milk

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts (plus more for finishing the cake)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans lined with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

In another large bowl whisk together the olive oil, milk, eggs and orange zest. Add this to the dry ingredients then mix well to combine. Stir in the walnuts.

Divide among the two prepared cake pans and bake for 50 – 60 minutes. Or until the middle springs back when gently pressed.

Let the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely on a wire rack.

While the cakes cool prepare the frosting and mousse.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

Pinch salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the butter and cream cheese. Beat on medium low until creamy and well mixed, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the powdered sugar, maple syrup and a pinch of salt then mix on low until combined. Increase the speed to medium then beat for an addition 5 minutes. Set aside.

Milk Chocolate Mousse

From Epicurious.com

2 tablespoons brewed coffee

5 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream, cold

Bring a small pot of water to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Combine the coffee and chocolate in a medium metal bowl that can sit atop the pot of water without touching the water. Place the bowl on the pot and heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring often. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and set aside to cool until no longer warm to the touch.

While the chocolate cools, whip the cream until soft peaks.

Gently fold in about half of the whipped cream into the chocolate. When just combined fold in the remaining whipped cream. Chill until ready to assemble the cake.

Salted Maple Caramel

1 cup maple syrup

Add the maple syrup to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer then reduce to 3/4 cup over low heat, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Keep a close eye on it as it can boil over. Let cool to room temperature.

To assemble the cake:

Once the cakes are completely cooled it’s time to assemble!

Using a piping bag (or if you’re fresh out as I was use a ziplock with a small cut in one corner) pipe a ridge or dam around the top edge of one of the cake layers. Fill the frosting fencing with the chocolate mousse (you may not need all the mousse, consider that the cake baker’s bonus). Top with the remaining cake layer. Then frost the entire cake.

Refrigerate until firm.

Just before serving add 1 cup or so of toasted walnuts to the top of the cake then pour the maple caramel over the top of the walnuts. Sprinkle with flake salt then serve right away.

*Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One ounce of walnuts provides 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid, the plant-based omega-3.

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For my first time dining at ABC Kitchen my friend and dining companion forced the squash toast on me. I read that menu with as much enthusiasm, delight and excitement as I did reading Harry Potter 7 (I just finished rereading the series and am deeply missing it). Each dish ignited inspiration – except for the squash toast. Squishy ricotta, on squishy bread with squishy squash. But she insisted.

I love it when I’m wrong. When I’m reminded of the very thing I teach my children on a daily basis, “Don’t judge something before you’ve tried it.” (Same goes for people, places, experiences, etc.)  Before I even realized it I’ve made up my own mind, somehow convincing myself of the truth when really I know nothing.

So here I give you my recipe for humble pie. Otherwise known as Squash Toast.

I have made this recipe several times since our dinner at ABC Kitchen. I’ve used butternut squash, as they do at the restaurant but I’ve since switched to delicata as I love that the squash doesn’t squish into the jam. Instead the skin (also, no peeling!) crisps in the oven so you get a lovely tender crunch. I also think the little roasted half moons are so stunning sitting atop a bed of creamy ricotta. However, no one complained when I used butternut squash so feel free to decide for yourself.

This dish can skew towards the sweet so don’t be shy with salt and heat. I have also added smoked paprika to the original recipe because, well, you know me, I love smoke.

Now I am the one insisting you try this recipe. Trust me.

Squash Toast with Smoky Onion Jam

Yield 4 servings

This recipe is my version of the iconic toast served at ABC Kitchen. 

Ingredients

Onion Jam

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

Pinch salt

Pinch chili flake

3 thyme sprigs

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Roasted Squash

1 delicata squash, halved and seeded

2 tablespoons Olive oil

Sea salt

Chili flake

Toast

4 thick cut slices of bread

Olive oil

salt

1 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup mint leaves, torn or chopped

Instructions

For the onion jam:

In a large skillet or dutch oven set over medium heat, add the olive oil, butter, onions and then a pinch of salt. Stir in the chili flake and thyme sprigs.

Cook the onions slowly until they start to soften and then eventually brown. If the edges start to brown and crisp turn down the heat so as to gently encourage the natural sugars in the onions to caramelize. This, like so many of life’s finest things, takes time. So give it that. 45 minutes to an hour is fine. You could go longer and your patience would be rewarded.

Once the onions match the color of a fine aged cigar (first reference that popped into my head – Gabe is really into cigars right now) stir in the vinegar and maple syrup. Reduce until sticky – neither soupy or dry, about 3 minutes of cooking. Turn off the heat, wait for it to cool a bit then pluck the thyme sprigs from the jam. While the jam cools roast the squash.

For the squash:

Line a sheet pan with parchment and preheat your oven to 400°F.

Cut the squash into 1/4 inch thick half moons. Add to the sheet pan then toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and a pinch of chili flake. Roast until tender and caramelized in parts. I don’t even mind a few bits that are crisp and charred.

Gently fold the roasted squash into the onion jam. Keep warm for the toasts or make ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Rewarm before serving.

Assemble the toast:

Drizzle the bread with olive oil then toast in a hot skillet, grill pan or on an actual grill. You want a good bit of color on the exterior crust while maintaining some softness within. SO use a very hot pan.

Top the bread with ricotta then add a nice pinch of salt. Add to that about 1/3 cup of the onion/squash mixture. Finish with salt and fresh mint. I like to add a bit more chili flake to mine too but that is up to you.

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There are a few simple things that I utterly embrace during this season of gray. Warming cups of tea in the dark evening light, long walks in the drizzling rain while sufficiently bundled, a mantle full of lit candles while the flames in the fireplace whip below, and soup.

Steaming bowls of soup with a thick cut slice of bread and a slather of butter spread on like frosting. I’m certain I could eat that meal for week on end without feeling one bit sad about it. In fact, this time of year that’s pretty much what I do.

While I tend to shy away from cleanses and goals about diets that I will dismiss after day two, this time of year I do long for a reprieve from the holiday fare. A bowl of soup is quite possibly one of my favorite ways to disguise comfort with health. Over the last several years I’ve taken great pride in my soup-making abilities in that I’m able to whip up a smooth and creamy bowl that tastes, well, like it’s loaded with cream. And this recipe that I’m sharing today is my proudest soup achievement. The walnuts are added directly to the pot along with the vegetables. The key to a hearty, almost smokey flavor is to caramelize the vegetables until nearly charred in parts. The walnuts deepen color and add to the roasty flavor of the final soup. They also add an incredibly rich creaminess that mimics cream and butter like nothing I’ve ever tried.

The resulting soup is somehow decadent and does well with a bright lift from the lemon tinged Toasted Walnut and Rosemary Gremolata. It’s the sort of dish that perfectly strikes that balance of being utterly satisfying and yet also pleasantly healthful.

*This post was created in partnership with California Walnuts. The words, recipe, photos and opinions are all mine. Thank you for supporting me and the work I do by supporting the brands that partner with me.

Celeriac, Green Apple and Walnut Soup

Yield 4 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium leek, halved, white and light green parts thinly sliced

1 large (1 lb) celeriac root, trimmed and roughly cubed

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 Granny Smith apple, core removed and roughly chopped

1 cup walnuts

1 medium potato, roughly cubed

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

Toasted Walnut and Rosemary Gremolata

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted, finely chopped

2 tablespoons rosemary leaves, finely minced

Zest from one lemon

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Salt

Instructions

For the soup:

In a large dutch oven set over medium high heat add the olive oil. Stir in the leeks and sauté until just softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the celery root, garlic, apple, walnuts, and potato. Sauté the vegetables and nuts are deeply caramelized in parts, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Carefully pour in the stock and add a couple of hefty pinches of salt and a good bit of freshly cracked pepper. Bring the pot to a rolling boil then cover mostly and turn down the heat so the soup gently simmers.

Once all the vegetables are tender carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until completely smooth.

Add more stock or a bit of water to get the desired texture. Taste and add more seasoning as needed.

Serve while warm with a generous shower of the walnut gremolata.

For the gremolata:

Combined the walnuts, rosemary, lemon zest and garlic in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and taste to adjust seasoning.

Store any leftover gremolata in a well sealed container in the fridge. Add to salads and soups as needed.

A food processor works wonders for the task of chopping all of these ingredients into a course sprinkle of sorts.

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Not Without Salt by Ashley Rodriguez - 5M ago

Our little black rocking chair with dog scratches and bite marks on the legs and I became good friends over the holidays. I read books, started practicing Centering Prayer and fell deeper in love with Harry Potter. The last six months of 2018 are a bit of a blur and I needed sufficient time to take a reprieve of the constant selling of this and that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do and am so honored to be able to support myself and my family doing it. In fact I am damn proud of my hard work and what is created as a result of that work. I mean, it’s not just me, I work with some crazy wonderful and talented people and we made some beautiful things this year and of course I want to tell you all about it and I want you all to love it and watch it and buy it so I can keep this whole thing going. But it’s exhausting. Have you seen this article?  So I sat in the rocking chair and stayed away from my phone (except for the occasional mindless game) and kept my computer close (except to watch Fraiser and The West Wing).

Anyway. That’s not exactly what I came here to say. I wanted to share with you something I wrote while in that rocking chair. And also to let you know that I have been in the kitchen today working on some new recipes to share with you shortly. As I type I have a whole cauliflower in the smoker. Fingers crossed on that experiement. In the meantime I’ll share some words and also point you to a few recipes in the archives that I still love to make this time of year. Like this citrus salad.  And speaking of smoke, do you remember this smoked pumpkin number?  We have our fair share of pasta this time of year. It’s the culinary equivalent to the blanket my grandmother crocheted for me. This roasted cauliflower linguini is often repeated.  And finally, soup. I’m a big big fan of the ease and coziness of soup. The method in this soup is one I repeat with any number of vegetables. 

//

There is so much anticipation around a new year. I like the feeling of freshness it provides. The ability to say thanks for the past year and brush it aside with all the hopefulness of starting with a clean slate. I get fluttery with the anticipation of what the new year could be. For in this brief moment I feel a (however unrealistic) brief sense of control that I get choose my own destiny. What new habits will I strive to maintain and what lofty yet exciting goals will I create.

Inevitably reality crashes into my fantasies and somewhere, usually around March, I find a bit of a balance between my hope-filled goals and intentions created after the high of the holidays and the reality that settles after work, school and life begins.

This year I’ve been thinking about reframing in the hope that a subtle shift might not create such a vast space between hope and reality. What if instead of creating “goals” or “intentions” for the new year – which are often weighty words that in the back of our minds we already know that down the road they’ll be ditched alongside the Christmas gift we “needed” – what if we wrote down our curiosities. Like goals, we could use our curiosities to act as a road map but unlike goals, curiosities feel a bit more playful, more childlike and more easily adaptable to the inevitable shift when the collision of fantasy and reality hit.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a big fan of curiosity. She instructs the creative mind to shift the focus away from passions, which carries with it so much weight and angst,  to curiosities.

I am a big advocate for the pursuit of curiosity. You’ve maybe heard me talk about this before? We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a TALL ORDER, and really hard to reach. In seasons of confusion, of loss, of boredom, of insecurity, of distraction, the idea of “passion” can feel completely inaccessible and impossible. In such times, you are lucky to be able to get your laundry done (that sometimes feels as high as you can aim) and when someone tells you to follow your passion, you want to give them the middle finger. (Go ahead and do it, by the way. But wait till their back is turned, out of civility.)

But curiosity, I have found, is always within reach.

I have goals, I have ambitions, I have hopes and desires for the new year but this year my focus is on what makes me curious. I want to give those fascinations the time and intention they deserve. And really, if I look back on some of my proudest accomplishments they were born out of my curiosities. Like when I became curious about taking better food photos and really digging into the mechanics of writing a successful recipe. Or when my curiosity led me to create restaurant quality food over the fire.

What are you curious about? And where are those curiosities going to lead you in the new year?

Happy 2019 friends! I can’t wait to be with you all for another year.

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