Taking the Waters

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Cold Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Savories, Sweets, Wellness

Here in Southern California, we’re on the tail end of yet another summer heat wave. It feels like we’ve been pummeled with them this year, barely having time to enjoy a week of “cooler” temps (90s instead of 100s) before the next one rolls in. This latest wave brought some dreaded humidity that made going outside feel like stepping into a wet sauna. Ugh. We’re only midway through the season, so to keep my cool and freshen up when there’s no time for taking a bath, I’ve been taking the waters.

I discovered the culinary delights of rose water and orange blossom water when I got to know my Persian co-workers many years ago. They explained that Middle Eastern cooks use these floral waters in cooking and baking the way that most Americans use vanilla. I quickly learned that the waters also make fragrant and refreshing toners and tonics. During the summer, my favorite cooling trick is to pour them into spray bottles and keep them in the fridge for sweetly-scented spritzing throughout the day.

For years, I could only find Indo-European brand rose and orange blossom waters at Whole Foods and the ethnic foods aisle of some chain grocery stores, but then a large Middle Eastern market opened a few miles from my house and introduced me to a whole new world of culinary waters. There were familiar ingredients, like dillweed, cumin seed, and licorice, alongside less common ones, such as borage, sweetbriar, and willow, but some of the names were unrecognizable to me. What the heck is hedysarum? And fumitary water sounds like a treatment you’d be given on the road to wellville.

I bought them all.

Since I’m more of a baker than a cook, the dillweed and cumin have languished on a shelf, but orange blossom continues to be a favorite scent, and a rose by any other name—whether Naab or Ghamsar Kashan—smells as sweet. A whiff of willow holds hints of violet and rose, while fumitary emits the unexpected essence of peppermint. On sweltering summer nights, nothing beats a mist of mint water on sheets, pillows, and overheated skin, especially under the cooling currents of a fan.

Many of the descriptions online recommend taking these waters as a tonic beverage with plain water and sugar added. According to one, chicory water can “refine the blood,” promoting skin and liver health. Another claims that fenugreek water helps lower blood sugar and strengthen hair. Willow is said to stimulate the appetite, while fumitary (sometimes called fumitory) is beneficial for treating eczema and psoriasis. Hedysarum, which has a flavor completely unfamiliar to my American palate, tastes slightly medicinal, with a sharp earthiness and a trace of fruit that is both strange and exotic … and, apparently, useful for whooping cough.

In addition to Indo-European, I have found culinary waters from Cortas, Al Wadi, and Sadaf, but the largest selection is produced by Golchin. Most of them are only $3-5 a bottle, so stock up this summer and hydrate liberally, inside and out, because taking the waters is (almost) as therapeutic as a trip to the spa.


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Culinary Waters

 

If you don’t live near a Middle Eastern market and can’t find these culinary waters at your local grocery store or gourmet food shop, many are available online from Persian Basket.

 

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Poppin’ Mad

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

When popcorn lover Josh Chaney mastered his great grandmother’s secret 100-year-old vegan caramel recipe, he got a crazy idea: what if you made caramel corn…and froze it? The result was an extra crispy treat that could be stored in the freezer and remain fresh-tasting indefinitely. Along with his partner Sulmaz Rahimpour, the “Mad Popper” began experimenting with a variety of sweet and savory combinations, which culminated in the opening of California Frozen Poppers.

california-frozen-poppers

shabang

The whole ShaBang: cheddar, chile and lime.

The first thing you notice upon entering is the large chalkboard that lists the shop’s profusion of popcorn choices. I was given a chilly reception—in this instance, a good thing—with samples taken from a case typically used to serve ice cream. Spicy flavors like ShaBang, featuring cheddar cheese with chili and lime, are equally enticing frozen as candy-coated versions like Caked, a colorful confection that lets you freeze your cake and eat it too.

caked

“Let them eat Caked!”

Josh told me that his corn is air-popped and contains no oil or water, so only the topping freezes when it’s put in cold storage. This means that the popcorn can be thawed and refrozen a virtually unlimited number of times and will still taste crisp and delicious. When I asked how long the popcorn would last in the freezer, he didn’t know, because he’s had a batch on ice for six years and counting that continues to taste as fresh as the day he made it.

omg

“Like, OMG!” You’ll like OMG!

California Frozen Poppers sends its popcorn all over the country, but no special shipping or cold packs are required. It can be enjoyed at room temperature, or frozen upon arrival for an icy indulgence that will—theoretically—far outlast your restraint. In fact, your primary predicament will be choosing from their overabundance of offerings, including sweet, cheesey, nutty, and seasonal flavors. Standouts are Hefty Melons, which tastes like a spicy watermelon Jolly Rancher, and OMG!, a jaw-dropping medley of chocolate, caramel, sea salt, and peanut butter M&Ms that is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistline).

With specials and samplers, vegan and gluten-free options, and a constantly evolving lineup of flavors, you’d have to be mad not to pop over to California Frozen Poppers and get a taste of this cool concept.

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California Frozen Poppers

 

 

Culture Cache

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Savories, Snacks

Culture Cache 1Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to entertain guests who have a variety of dietary restrictions and preferences. You yourself may be gluten-free, lactose intolerant, vegetarian, or vegan. It can be challenging to create a menu of foods to serve that will cater to all tastes and requirements, so you might find yourself returning to the same old standbys again and again. While many people are gonzo for garbanzos, I am sick of chickpea dips, so it’s time to ditch the ho-hummus and try something a little nutty.*

When chef Miyoko Schinner became a vegan decades ago, she focused her culinary talents on creating gourmet dishes without the use of animal products. However, like many people who transition to a plant-based diet, she missed the dairy cheeses she used to enjoy and sought to recreate them in her kitchen. The result is Miyoko’s Creamery: a range of aged, artisanal vegan cheeses that look and feel like they came from the dairy case and have flavors that are reminiscent of familiar favorites.

Culture Cache 2Made from a base of organic cashews and miso, these cultured nut products (labeling laws prevent Miyoko’s Kitchen from referring to its creations as “cheese” on the packaging) have a smooth, creamy texture and a piquant tang. While other vegan cheese alternatives often contain processed soy and long lists of additives, Mikoyo’s Creamery combines wholesome ingredients with a sophisticated presentation that will give you the wow without the cow.

The Fresh Loire Valley variety is wrapped in a wine-soaked fig leaf and brings a soupçon of French refinement to even casual get togethers when served with dried fig and olive crackers and a bottle of crisp Chardonnay. For a bit of dark drama, offer guests a noirish nosh of Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash on a platter of black grapes. The ash imparts a slightly smoky flavor, but for those (like me) who prefer a more intense per-fume, try the Aged English Smoked Farmhouse.

Culture Cache 3The online cheese shop at Miyoko’s Kitchen has an ever-revolving and evolving lineup of flavors, which often sell out quickly. I am fortunate to have a local market that carries a large selection from Miyoko’s Creamery, but those who have trouble finding certain varieties and are adventurous in the kitchen can make their own cultured nut products by following the recipes in Miyoko’s book, Artisan Vegan Cheese.

Whether you or your guests have food allergies, ethical concerns, or simply a desire to reduce your consumption of dairy products, get some culture and squirrel away a cache of vegan cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery for your next gathering of (health) nuts.

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Miyoko’s Creamery

 

Artisan Vegan Cheese can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble , or get an autographed copy from Miyoko’s Kitchen.

 

*Unfortunately, those with nut allergies are still left holding the hummus.

The Mayo Cynic

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Savories

The Mayo Cynic 1Growing up, I never liked mayonnaise. I thought that something with the consistency of pudding should not be savory, salty, OR tangy. It went against the natural order. I also found it mysterious and vaguely sinister. Not understanding the science behind emulsification, I couldn’t fathom how clear, liquid oil and vinegar could create a creamy white spread. The fact that a raw egg yolk—another ominous ingredient to a child—resided somewhere within this amalgam only added to my aversion. It was, in a word, icky.

Over the years, I dabbled in mustard. When eating out, “Hold the mayo!” was my standard order, and I’d always request oil and vinegar on my subs and hoagies in place of the dreaded spread. As I got older, though, I decided it was time to evolve my palate. I hadn’t liked ketchup as a child either, but I’d started enjoying it on french fries. While I wasn’t ready to embrace real mayonnaise (my irrational fixation on the raw egg yolk having been ingrained in my subconscious), I did try some of the vegan versions and, to my surprise, I liked them. What I didn’t like was that they all contained soy, an ingredient I was trying to avoid.

The Mayo Cynic 2I heard about Just Mayo when its producer, Hampton Creek Foods, was sued by Unilever (owner of Best Foods and Hellman’s mayonnaise) for false advertising, claiming that Just Mayo did not meet the legal definition of mayonnaise since it isn’t made with eggs. This lawsuit (since dropped) had the unintended effect of bringing the company to my attention and making me a loyal customer, because I bought a jar and discovered that I loved it!

Just Mayo has the look, texture, and flavor of real mayonnaise, but it’s suitable for vegans and weirdos like me. I gave some to my mother, a regular consumer of mayonnaise, and she agreed that if I hadn’t told her it wasn’t the real thing, she wouldn’t have known the difference. I now gleefully eat it on sandwiches and use it in recipes calling for mayonnaise.

The Mayo Cynic 3In addition to 16 oz. glass jars of the original spread, Just Mayo comes in 8 oz. squeeze bottles with flavors like Chipotle, Garlic, and Sriracha. I like to use the Chipotle version as a dip for french fries and have been known to smuggle a bottle into restaurants in my purse.

The mission of Hampton Creek Foods is to make sustainable, plant-based foods that taste like familiar favorites, but are better for the planet. By replacing eggs with ingredients like yellow-pea protein and sorghum, the company uses less energy and resources to produce its products. Along with Just Mayo, Hampton Creek Foods makes an eggless cookie dough (safe to eat raw!) and is working on perfecting a plant-based version of scrambled eggs.

Now that I’ve overcome my mayonnaise malaise, I no longer say, “Hold the mayo!” Instead, I hold the Just Mayo and dip my knife in.

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Just Mayo

Flowing Smoke

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks

After a hot, dry October, fall finally arrived in Southern California this past week and I smelled wood smoke in the air for the first time on my nightly walk. The aroma instantly brings to mind cozy nights at home in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot cocoa warming your hands. But even though the season for hearth fires is short here in the southwest, I enjoy the pleasures of wood smoke year-round in my kitchen.

Flowing Smoke 1I have been crushing on liquid smoke for a while now. Just a few drops of this versatile seasoning lends a rich, earthy flavor to sweets and savories alike. From the now-defunct smoky black beans at El Pollo Loco (bring them back!) to the swoon-worthy Smoked Chocolate Chips from Hot Cakes, I have long had a fondness for the fume. Since most of us don’t own or want to fuss with a smoker, liquid smoke makes a delicious and convenient alternative.

There are many different types and brands of liquid smoke on the market, but my current favorite is Cedar House Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke. I have added it to black and baked beans, sprinkled it on pizza and eggs, and mixed it into hot chocolate and ice cream (try it with salted caramel). You can also add a dash or two to melted chocolate and pour it into molds for your own smoky chocolate bar. Top with a toasted marshmallow and sandwich between two graham crackers and you’ll be singing Kumbaya in no time. Campfire Girls, eat your hearts out!

By far, my favorite way to enjoy liquid smoke is in buttery popcorn tossed with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. Any way you like it—alder, hickory, mesquite—experiment and have fun. You just might discover an indispensable addition to your culinary repertoire…and that’s not blowing smoke!

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Cedar House Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke

 

Flowing Smoke 2SMOKY PARMESAN POPCORN

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp. canola or coconut oil*
½ cup popcorn kernels
3-4 Tbsp. butter or Earth Balance spread†
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese†
liquid smoke
salt and pepper

Directions:
Pour the oil in a 4-quart stock pot and heat over a medium flame for about a minute. Add the popcorn kernels and shake the pot slightly to coat them with oil. Cover pot with a lid, leaving a small opening at the edge to vent the steam. When the kernels begin to pop, move the pot gently back and forth over the flame in a continuous motion until the popping slows down to several seconds between pops. Immediately take the pan off the stove, remove the lid, and empty the popped corn into a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small pan on the stove or in a microwave. Add a few drops of liquid smoke to the melted butter and stir to blend. (I like a lot of liquid smoke and give the bottle a few good shakes into the butter, but you may want to start with a small amount and add more to your taste.) Pour the melted butter evenly over the popcorn and toss until popcorn is thoroughly coated. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste, then toss again to mix well. Grab a large stack of napkins and enjoy!

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*I prefer the crispiness of popcorn popped in oil, but you can make yours in an air popper or other popcorn maker, if you prefer. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

†You can veganize this recipe by replacing the butter with Earth Balance and the Parmesan cheese with ¼ to ½ cup of nutritional yeast. Earth Balance is sold at most supermarkets. Nutritional yeast can be found at many natural foods stores and vitamin shops.

Fare and Square

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes, Savories, Sweets

Fare and Square 1When I was growing up, Sunday mornings meant church with the family followed by a breakfast of my father’s famous waffles. Sometimes he would make pancakes, but I preferred waffles, fresh and hot from the iron, spread thickly with peanut butter (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), and dripping with maple syrup. As my father got older and my sisters moved away, this tradition faded, but I never lost my love for waffles. I would make them regularly myself were it not for one obstacle: cleaning the waffle iron. Despite the directive to simply “wipe with a damp cloth,” I am a clean freak and nothing will suffice but using a soft scrub brush and some mild dish soap to get every little nook and cranny,* all the while trying not to let water leak into any of the electrical parts. Way too much trouble.

Fare and Square 2Being a night owl, I only go out to breakfast under duress, but I like to order a Belgian waffle when I do. There’s something about the structure and precision of those crisp, sturdy squares, which make perfect receptacles for puddles of melting butter and hot syrup (and ease the pain of getting up at the crack of dawn). A few years ago, I ordered cheddar waffles for the first time and had a conversion experience. Salty, sweet, and savory, they were definitely “scrub-worthy,” but I never exerted myself to make them at home.

A short time ago, Kirsti made some delicious cheddar waffles, which ignited my determination to finally get out the old waffle iron. Before I did, I noticed a jar of cornmeal that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. I don’t like when foods linger in the pantry or fridge, and I try to use up staples while they’re still fresh, so I searched for recipe ideas using cornmeal. Lo and behold, many of the results that popped up were for cornmeal waffles. Now I had a decision to make (and I hate making decisions!): cheddar or cornmeal? I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to make waffles twice in a brief period of time. Then it hit me—cheddar cornmeal waffles!

Fare and Square 3I am clearly not the first person to have had this idea based on the number of recipes I found online, but all of them had a string of ingredients and little extras added in like toasted nuts, corn kernels, bacon, and/or jalapeños. I like to keep things simple, so I found this straightforward recipe for Savory Cheddar Waffles and merely substituted one cup of cornmeal for a cup of the flour.

I whipped up a batch and they came out of the waffle iron extra crispy with the pungent, earthy aroma of cheddar hanging in the air. Even soaking in maple syrup, they maintained their crunch from the cornmeal. I put the extras in the freezer, then popped one in the toaster the next morning. It came out hot and crisp, as if made fresh that very day. This recipe is a winner! As I set to the task of cleaning the waffle iron, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I didn’t waffle on the answer: “Definitely.”

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SCRUB-WORTHY CHEDDAR CORNMEAL WAFFLES (adapted from Chowhound)

Fare and Square 4Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal†
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (about 5 oz.) shredded Irish cheddar cheese, such as Dubliner‡

Directions:
Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until there are no lumps. In a second bowl, whisk eggs lightly until just broken up. Add the milk. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the melted butter and stir to combine. Add the cheese and mix thoroughly. Pour the cheese mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Heat your waffle iron to medium according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once heated, fill it with batter, close the lid, and cook until the steam starts to diminish (my waffle iron has a light that tells me when the waffles are ready, but you can open the top and peek for doneness after a few minutes). Transfer waffles to a plate or wire rack.§ Repeat with the remaining batter. Makes about 6 Belgian waffles or 10-12 regular waffles.

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*My waffle iron has a nonstick coating, but I still need to use oil to prevent the waffles from sticking. I’ve read that you should season nonstick cookware, but I simply can’t bring myself to put it away when I can still see beads of oil between the squares. No.

†I used one full cup of cornmeal, because that’s what I had in my pantry, but the flavor was fairly strong in the waffles. If you want to reduce the amount of cornmeal in the recipe, simply increase the flour accordingly so that the total flour-cornmeal mixture equals 2 cups (e.g. 1 ½ cups flour plus ½ cup cornmeal). I would not use more than one cup of cornmeal in this recipe.

‡I went for broke and grated the full 7 oz. block of Dubliner cheese into the batter. Life is short!

§If you want to keep the waffles warm after they come out of the iron, preheat your oven to 250°F and place the waffles on a wire rack that’s been set on a baking sheet in the center of the oven.

If Once You Have Slept on an Island

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Food, Food & Drink, Inspiration, Recipes, Savories, Travel

If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.
— Rachel Lyman Field

Eagle Island 1

The first time I stepped foot on Eagle Island, it was so foggy I could only see a few steps in front of me. My boyfriend (now husband) Aaron had been telling me about this island since we met—his most special place, his Disneyland, his Paris. We had traveled by plane, car and boat to get there. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, but the moment I stepped foot onto the shore, I understood that I was in a rare and magical place.

Eagle Island 2Eagle Island is only about a mile-and-a-half long by half-a-mile wide, but there are so many self-contained universes. There is a farmhouse in the middle of a big meadow, which is the hub of the island; a forest that has mysterious fairy bowers hidden throughout the trees, which no one lays claim to; an old schoolhouse from the 1800s that has not been touched inside for more than half a century; a small, but beautiful, cemetery; a lighthouse; a tiny post office; and a handful of gasp-inducing beaches so cinematic that they make you want to spontaneously burst into a rousing sea shanty.

Eagle Island 3The quiet splendor of this island rivals any great city I’ve ever been to, but what makes Eagle Island so special is that you feel like it belongs to you. You have to try hard to come in contact with other people here, so you can have the rare experience of not battling crowds, not angling for a better view or a perfect spot on the beach. You can just be still. You can listen to the sounds of insects buzzing. You can smell the ocean and feel the breeze on your skin. It’s not often we can be truly alone in beauty, and the island is restorative in ways other places can never be. The island belongs to you and you belong to it, and it’s a relationship you don’t take lightly. You want to nestle into her and whisper, “Your song is heard. Your people are dear to me, too. I will keep your secrets.”

Eagle Island 4Only a handful of people own cottages on the island, but there are many cottages of all different sizes that are available for rent. There is the Doll House, which is adorably tiny, all the way up to the Hill House, which has six bedrooms. The cottages have a cozy, vintage vibe that you usually only see in magazines meticulously curated by a dozen city people who may never have even been to an island. Treena and Krista are your island hostesses, and their bohemian loveliness is sprinkled over everything.

Eagle Island 5Aaron and I were able to spend a week on Eagle in August and we had, as always, the most wonderful time. The first several days were foggy, but warm, and the mist gave the island a dreamy New England feel. Then the weather changed and everything was sun-dappled and beautiful with seagulls singing in the sky and sailboats gliding through the sea. It’s hard to believe, but on an island with so few people, we had a very active social calendar. We had friends over for dinner, ate fresh lobster caught that day, and ended the evening with a sing-along. On another night, we went to Krista’s cabin for dinner and watched one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. Another night was a surprise cocktail party for Aaron’s moms’ anniversary. We were also invited to a lovely brunch, took long walks followed by long naps, had an impromptu lunch at the farmhouse where Krista whipped up the most delicious pasta with kale picked from the garden, read, and even made a short horror movie. We did everything and nothing and every second was grand.

Eagle Island 6

Several years ago, after visiting the island for more than 25 years, Aaron’s moms built a cottage on the island. Actually, they call it a cabbage—part cabin, part cottage. It’s warm and inviting and filled with laughter and music and has the most glorious view of the ocean. I love to sit out on the deck with the family, talking, drinking wine and watching the sunset. Even as we chat about this or that, we are each in the moment, recognizing the specialness of where we are, knowing how lucky we are to be able to sleep on an island—Eagle Island—and aware that none of us will ever be the same.

Eagle Island 7
KRISTA’S EAGLE ISLAND KALE PASTA

INGREDIENTS
I lb. penne pasta
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
2 bunches kale, cut from the ribs and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup salty, pitted green olives
2 Tbsp. capers, drained
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
4 Tbsp. (or to taste) Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (you can substitute soy sauce)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn
salt and pepper, to taste
grated Parmesan

INSTRUCTIONS
Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium low heat. Add kale and garlic and sauté until kale is soft, making sure not to brown garlic, about 7-10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium, add cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, red pepper flakes (if using) and Bragg’s Aminos and sauté 5 more minutes, until tomatoes are soft and heated through. Stir in basil and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook penne in lots of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add kale mixture and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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Eagle Island

 

If you’d like to rent a cabin on beautiful Eagle Island, please contact Treena and Krista at Eagle Island Rentals.

 

That’s My Jam!

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

That's My Jam 1I have a problem with condiments. It’s not the taste (although, don’t get me started on relish), it’s the loitering. As a single person, a bottle of ketchup can sit on the door of my refrigerator for months. And yellow mustard? That’s once or twice a year, tops. Spying the partially used bottles every time I look in the fridge is almost as upsetting as watching the contents wash down the drain when I finally decide to dump them.

Jams and jellies tend to go faster, but they can still overstay their welcome—with one notable exception. Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam is so delicious that I have trouble keeping it on the shelf. It is, quite possibly, the most swoon-worthy thing I have written about on this blog to date.

That's My Jam 2My good friend Mika, a pastry chef and foodie extraordinaire, turned me on to this sweet and spicy spread several years ago when she discovered it at a local farmer’s market. While the label recommends serving the jam as a condiment or glaze for meats, we at The Swoon Society like to spoon it atop baguette slices that have been heaped with Saint-André triple-crème cheese. If you serve this as an appetizer, be prepared for guests who are too full to do more than pick at the main course.

Not content to take a supporting role, the fiery, smoky flavor of Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam shines when paired with simple foods. For an unexpected treat, heat a little of the jam and pour it over vanilla ice cream. The casein protein in dairy products helps to neutralize the spiciness of the chipotle pepper, while the cold ice cream cools the fire. (Vegans can enjoy Jimmie’s on non-dairy cream cheese and coconut milk ice cream, but these foods do little to soothe the burn.)

That's My Jam 3Uncle Berch’s Foods only sells Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam in packs of three, four, or five jars, but don’t let that discourage you from trying it. You will tear through those jars and find yourself ordering more to give away to friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors alike. Keep some on hand to use as host/hostess gifts, but make sure to always hold back a jar or two for yourself, or you’ll inevitably dip into your stash.

I’m not sure who this Jimmie is (or Uncle Berch either, for that matter), but he knows his way around a pepper. In addition to the original, he makes three other Chipotle varieties, as well as versions with Red Fresno Chili, Habañero and Ghost Pepper. The label quotes Jimmie as saying, “It’s easy to make things hot. It’s hard to make it taste good.” You can’t exactly set it to music, but his flavors completely rock. Jam on!

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Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam

 

Saint-André triple-crème cheese can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many gourmet cheese shops.

Bliss and Vinegar

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets
Bliss and Vinegar 1

Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co.

As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but a friend recently introduced me to one brand of vinegar that might just lure the flies away from the honey pot. Mika is a true foodie, so when she tells me she’s discovered a culinary treasure, I pay attention. On a trip to Northern California, she visited Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co. and, though they are known for their olive oil (natch), Mika fell hard for their Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Having lived in Italy twice, she knows a swoon-worthy balsamic when she tastes one.

Bliss and Vinegar 2Balsamic vinegar (which contains no balsam and is not, strictly speaking, vinegar) has been produced in Italy for centuries, but it’s become so ubiquitous in recent years that many people don’t realize they are actually consuming a cheap imitation. That bargain bottle you scored at the market is probably inexpensive wine vinegar tarted up to look like the real thing. True balsamic vinegar comes only from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy, is aged anywhere from 12-100 years, and can be valued at hundreds of dollars a bottle.

Bliss and Vinegar 3Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a true Italian balsamic vinegar. Sutter Buttes imports theirs from Modena and it is thick, sweet, and delicious. Barrel-aged up to 18 years, it has the glossy color and silky texture of a balsamic reduction, with just enough tang and acidity to complement savory dishes. In addition to the classic combo of olive oil and vinegar as a dip for bread, it can be used in salad dressings, drizzled over fruit and cheese, or—my personal favorite—spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Sutter Buttes sells a variety of flavored balsamic vinegars, from Peach and Fig to Espresso and Vanilla, but I’m a purist. I favor the singular personality of their Traditional version. Whatever your preference, with such a diversity of choices at an exceptional price, you’ll soon be full of bliss and vinegar. Buon appetito!

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Sutter Buttes Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar

 

It’s Crunch Time

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Savories, Snacks

Crunch Time 1A co-worker turned me on to Have’a Corn Chips close to 15 years ago, and I’m still not sure if I want to thank him or smack him. These chips are so delicious and addictive that I usually end up eating the entire bag in one sitting, followed by the obligatory guilt trip. I would be hesitant to write about them on this blog were it not for the fact that, before the recriminations begin…swoooon.

Crunch Time 2The formula is deceptively simple: corn, soybean oil, soy sauce and a dash of lime. Diabolical! It’s a potent combination of crunchy/salty with a dose of umami that mere mortals are helpless to resist. And I’m convinced that the company hired psychologists to design the packaging. At 4 oz., the bag is less than half the size of a standard bag of tortilla chips, but double the size of a large single serving bag of Doritos. After you eat half the bag, you think, “Well, there’s only a single serving left. Might as well just eat that too.” Have’a Chips should really change their name to Have’a Bag.

Crunch Time 3

The coveted dark chips.

Then there’s the mystery. I have been told by more than one person over the years that Have’a Chips are made by Hare Krishna monks (a myth, according to this article), and the company does not have a website or any social media presence that I can find (the Have’a Corn Chips Facebook page was created by a fan and hasn’t been updated since 2013). Their operation is as murky as their bag is clear, but since I love a good mystery as much as I love a good chip, I’m content to remain in the dark.

Speaking of which, I’ve been known to take every bag of Have’a Chips off the shelf at the market to scrutinize them for the one with the darkest chips (dark = soy sauce). A Have’a Chips addict has no shame! Except when it comes to punctuation. The apostrophe in the name of these chips is enough to drive a grammarian crackers, but it remains as much a mystery as the company itself.

If a co-worker (or anyone else) offers to share his Have’a Chips, be warned: one bite of this savory snack and you’ll find yourself saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have’another?”

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
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Have’a Corn Chips

 

Have’a Chips are available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many natural foods store. They can also be purchased online at Amazon.