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.

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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.

 

Mad for Madeleines

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Some people are born to sing or paint or play music. I was born to feed people. When I have friends over for dinner, I can’t help but make everything from scratch. I love orchestrating an evening from start to finish: flowers, table setting, music, cocktails and the food—lots of food. Planning a dinner party fills me with happy excitement. I get giddy poring through cookbooks and files of recipes; pairing dishes that complement each other, that will look pretty together on the plate and, most of all, will taste amazing.

Mad for Madeleines 1I spend more time on the dessert than anything else. Sometimes I wish I could just go to Costco and get one of their giant pies. They are delicious and pretty and no one would care that I didn’t make it. But I am a Sugar Nerd and buying a prefab dessert would be tantamount to lip syncing on SNL. Even though the dessert is the most time-consuming element of my dinner parties, it’s my favorite part.

Then one day, everything changed. I came across a recipe for Daniel Boulud’s madeleines. A madeleine is a miniature French butter cake baked in a shell-shaped mold. I had never been a big fan of them—the ones I ran into were usually dry and bland. But the thought of serving warm little cakes, hot from the oven and dusted with powdered sugar, tantalized me. So I made them the next time we had friends over for dinner.

Mad for Madeleines 2I have to add an “Ooh la la!” for emphasis here. We all kind of lost our minds. They were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside—lusciously buttery and not too sweet. The four of us ate every last one. We didn’t care. Everyone got a kick out of getting something hot from the oven and the house smelled so good! The best part: they took me ten minutes to make and I got just as many oohs and aahs as I do when I spend two days making dessert. I was liberated! These little babies are now my go-to dessert. Sometimes I serve them with fresh berries, other times with whipped cream. Most of the time, I already have the ingredients on hand—no more searching out hard-to-find things like almond paste or powdered egg whites! It’s also the perfect dessert for guests who are gluten-free. Just substitute the all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour. They are just as delicious. Please indulge me one last time: “Ooh la la!”

Now, when people are coming over for dinner, the only dessert decision I need to make is if the madeleines should have lemon, orange or grapefruit zest. Take that, giant Costco pie! I dream of you no more! Well, maybe I do when I take that nap with all the free time I have now. Those French know how to live! I truly get to have my cake and eat it, too. Ooh. La. La.

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MADELEINES (adapted from Daniel Boulud)

Mad for Madeleines 3INGREDIENTS
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp finely grated lemon, orange or grapefruit zest
6 Tbsp (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Powdered sugar

Special Equipment: 1 madeleine pan (with 12 cake molds)*

INSTRUCTIONS
Whisk baking powder, flour and salt in a small bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, brown sugar, honey and zest in a medium bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients and whisk until just smooth. Whisk in melted butter. Pour batter into a large plastic resealable bag and chill for at least 1 hour. (DO AHEAD: Batter can be made the day before. Keep chilled until ready to use.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray madeleine pan with oil spray and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. Snip end off one corner of the plastic bag and pipe batter into the madeleine pan, filling molds two-thirds full.

Bake madeleines until the edges are golden brown and the centers are puffed up and spring back lightly when touched, about 7-8 minutes.

Release each cake gently with a toothpick or chopstick. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. Makes about 18 large Madeleines.

Receive tribute from guests.

 

*I like this madeleine pan, which can be purchased from Amazon.

This Galette Is Plum Delicious

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Galette 1We at The Swoon Society like to eat and we love making food for friends. I made this fantastic plum galette for a dinner party last Saturday night. A galette is basically an open-faced pie where you pile the ingredients into the center of a pie crust and then fold the edges over the filling and—voilà—a quick, easy dessert that has so much damn rustic charm, your guests suspect you also churn your own butter.

When my husband Aaron proclaimed, “This is your best galette yet,” I knew I needed to share the love. Take it as your own, Swooners, and good luck with that butter churning.

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Galette 2PLUM GALETTE (adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

INGREDIENTS

Pastry:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup ice water

Filling:
¼ cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp ground almonds or almond meal (available at Trader Joe’s)
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 ½ lbs plums, halved, pitted and cut into ½ slices
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ jar apricot preserves, slightly warmed

INSTRUCTIONS

Pastry:
Combine the 1 ½ cups flour, 1 ½ sticks of butter, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times (resist the urge to pulse more!). Add the ice water and pulse a few more times. You should still see chunks of butter in the dough. Gather dough into a ball and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 16×18-inch circle about 1/8” thick. Roll dough around a rolling pin and transfer to a large, flat cookie sheet. Chill 30 minutes in the freezer (you can also make the night before, cover with plastic wrap, and keep in the refrigerator). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling:
In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup of sugar with the ground almonds and flour and spread over the center of the pastry, leaving 2” around the edge. Arrange the plum slices in a decorative circular pattern, starting at the outside edge, and dot with the 3 small pieces of butter. Sprinkle all but 1 tsp of the 1/3 cup sugar over the plums. Gently fold the 2” edges of the pastry up over the fruit (if dough is too firm, let thaw about 10 minutes until pliable or it will break). Sprinkle the border with the remaining 1 tsp sugar.

Bake the galette on the middle rack in the oven for about an hour. The crust should be nicely browned. If any juice has leaked out onto the baking sheet, slide a knife under the galette to prevent it from sticking. Brush the apricot preserves over the fruit and crust. Let cool to room temperature and serve with freshly whipped cream, if desired.

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.

Join the Popsicle Revolution!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Sweets

Popsicle 1Popsicle. A happy little word that conjures memories from childhood summers, when there wasn’t anything else to do but sit on the porch with the neighborhood kids and fight over who got the last cherry one. We didn’t care that we were sticky or that it was blazing hot outside. Give a kid a popsicle and all is right in her world.

Today, popsicles have been enjoying a renaissance. I first encountered this Popsicle Revolution when People’s Pops took Brooklyn by storm with their handmade pops made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. With flavors like Raspberry & Basil, Blueberry & Buttermilk, and Apricot & Lavender, I was on board with this Frozen Confection Train.

Popsicle 2Shortly after that, I heard of a place tantalizingly named Suck It Sweets in Studio City.* Oh, my. I could drive there. And I did. And it was Awesome.

I had their Cherry Cobbler pop and, may I say, it was not disappointing. SO not disappointing.

Sometime later, while cruising the frozen section at Whole Foods, I stumbled upon paletas. These are Mexican ice pops made from Mangoes and Chilies and Hibiscus and Coconut and a myriad of other wonderful, regional ingredients. ¡Muy deliciosos!

The signs were unmistakable. My mission became clear. I promptly ordered the following gear: pop molds, sticks, and the bible of frozen confections—the People’s Pops recipe book. I started out classic…trying out Straight-Up Raspberry for a visiting relative. Then I attempted their Blackberry & Rose. Both were Crazy Good.

Popsicle 3

Monin Violet Syrup

My latest fave is Cucumber & Violet. When I saw that recipe in the book, I gasped out loud.** It was serendipitous, because I had just bought some Monin Violet Syrup and was itching to try it. This violet syrup has the truest violet flavor I’ve tried. I can’t wait to experiment with it more. And I have always loved cucumber in spa water and cocktails—I couldn’t wait to try these pops!

They are super easy to make. The only ingredients are:

cucumbers
simple syrup
lemon juice
violet syrup

Popsicle 7

Simple. The taste? Fresh Floral Deliciousness. Neither flavor is overpowering, and they aren’t overly sweet, just really refreshing—perfect on a hot afternoon or even as a palate cleanser during a dinner party. Seriously, friends, who would not be absolutely delighted by a Cucumber & Violet frozen pop between courses on a summer night? Anyone who wouldn’t is not invited to my dinner parties! Even my husband Aaron, who is continually barraged by my floral flavored food, loved them.

I admire the gang from People’s Pops for taking a common treat and turning it into something unexpected and innovative. I’m happily working my way through their recipe book—Vive la Révolution!

 

CUCUMBER & VIOLET POPS (adapted from People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop)

Popsicle 41 ¼ lbs cucumbers (about 2 or 3), peeled
2/3 cup simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup violet syrup (preferably Monin), or to taste

SIMPLE SYRUP

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water

Simmer sugar and water in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Makes about 1 cup.

Purée the cucumbers in a food processor and add to a medium-sized bowl with a pouring spout. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup. Add the violet syrup, tasting as you go, until you reach delicious violet goodness.

Pour into ice pop molds, leaving a bit of room at the top, since the mixture expands as it freezes. Insert sticks and freeze for at least 4 to 5 hours.

Popsicle 5

Unmold the pops by running warm water over the mold until they release easily. Give an adult a popsicle and all is right in their world.

Popsicle 6

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People’s Pops

 

Monin Violet Syrup is available from the company’s website. You can purchase pop moldswooden popsicle sticks, and the People’s Pops recipe book from Amazon.

 

* This location has unfortunately closed. Come back to me!

**For more violet goodness, see previous posts on The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur and Kusmi Violette tea.

 

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

 

Margie’s Quinoa – This Recipe Will Change Your Life!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Wellness

Margie's Quinoa 1I’ve never been a huge quinoa fan. Let’s just get that out on the table now. I don’t hate it, but I don’t crave it, I don’t order it, and I don’t cook with it. I like lots of other healthy grains like farro, lentils, and bulgur, but quinoa has a funky texture and, like tofu (which I am also not a big fan of), you need to add a lot of flavor to make it taste good. So when my friend Margie told me that she and her husband ate quinoa every week, Monday through Thursday, I was shocked. But also fascinated (and a little obsessed).

I know this is a blog about stuff to swoon over—don’t be fooled, this story has a fairytale ending—but before quinoa had me in her thrall, I was a disbeliever.

When Margie first told me about her quinoa regimen, I thought she made a different recipe every week. I even started sending her quinoa recipes I came across, but she makes the same one. Every week. Being the kind of person who loves variety so much I don’t even like leftovers, I was curious about why she and her husband Michael committed to this way of eating. I interviewed Margie exclusively for The Swoon Society:

What made you decide to be so structured with your weekday eating?
We structured our weekly meals mainly because my husband had gained 20+ lbs from our cooking and wine drinking every night of the week. He decided the way to combat this problem was to rely on the Catholic method of living…sin and repent!

He thought if he could eat moderately during the week, he could indulge himself on the weekends, and it should all balance out. He also gave up drinking alcohol Mon-Thurs. Once I saw how much easier it was to eat the same thing every night and not have to worry about what I was going to make for dinner every night or make daily trips to the market, I got on board with the process.

Do you ever get sick of eating the same thing 4 days a week?
We eat this dish Mon-Thurs, and have been doing so for several years. Of course we get tired of eating it sometimes. We take a break if our schedule is such that we won’t be home to eat the dish at least three days during the week. When we go on vacation, we don’t watch what we eat. By the end of every trip, we always say we can’t wait to get back to eating quinoa! We never feel overly full when we eat it or go to bed on a full stomach.

Do you ever vary the recipe?
The recipe has evolved over the years, mostly in terms of which vegetables we use. We switch off between the three Trader Joe’s simmer sauces from time to time.

Do you think it has had an impact on weight loss?
For my husband, who has a tendency to overeat, it has been very impactful to structure our diet this way. It’s very easy to see where you are overeating or where to cut calories when your diet is so structured. This method of eating also has a huge impact on time. It’s shocking how much time you have for yourself when you don’t have to cook dinner and clean up afterwards. Evenings become a time to relax or a productive time doing other things. It might even get you to bed earlier, which will have a positive impact on how much sleep you get. Nothing bad comes to those who eat the same thing for dinner every night!

Where did you get the recipe?
The original dish was a brown rice and black bean base. Once quinoa started to become popular, I switched to it and began messing around with the recipe. My goal was to keep it as simple as possible and to have all the ingredients come from Trader Joe’s. Their pre-cut veggie options are convenient and plentiful. But, of course, you can use any veggies you like.

I started telling other friends about Margie’s diet and, invariably, they would become intrigued and ask for the recipe. I thought all the reasons Margie ate this way were valid and, if I was going to write about it for the blog, I should try it myself. My husband was game. I went to Trader Joe’s with my list and made my first batch.

Margie's Quinoa 2There are many great things about this recipe. One is that everything IS available from Trader Joe’s. I’m used to going to about three different stores to get ingredients I need for the week, so already I was pretty excited. The second great thing is that it’s very quick and easy to prepare. I don’t have a Crock-Pot, so I just put everything in a big pot and cooked it until the veggies were done. The third, and most remarkable thing about this dish, is that it is delicious! My husband and I were both surprised. It does not feel like we are compromising, especially with the addition of avocado, a splash of Tabasco, and occasionally some light sour cream. I actually look forward to eating it each night. And, it has practically no fat! Of course, the avocado adds fat, but as we know, it’s the GOOD fat, so it doesn’t count. This, on top of no cooking and no clean up, makes Margie’s recipe something to definitely swoon over!

We have tried this for two weeks and are going into our third. We talked about adding some grilled shrimp this week. Also, I added garbanzo beans and fresh corn to the mix – it’s wonderfully customizable to what’s fresh at the farmer’s market or easily available at good old Trader Joe’s. Last week I was in Vegas for a convention and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t looking forward to getting back on the quinoa wagon.

I might not give up wine, but I’m definitely incorporating this way of eating into my life on the regular. Both my husband and I feel better and maybe we will also lose some weight. As far as having all that extra time…perfect for blog writing.


MARGIE’S QUINOA

Add ingredients into the Crock-Pot in this order (or put into a big pot):
1 cup rinsed quinoa, any color of your choice
2 cups of the broth of your choice
1 28 oz. can organic diced tomatoes, no salt added (I fill the can about half way full with water to rinse it and add that to the pot)
1/2 jar Trader Joe’s Curry Simmer Sauce (refrigerate and save the other half for next week – Trader Joe’s has 2 other flavors of simmer sauce you can try as well.)
1 bag cut butternut squash (I cut the larger pieces in half or quarters so they will cook through)
2 – 3 zucchini squash, slice the long way, then cut in 1/2” slices
1 bag sliced cremini mushrooms
2 handfuls of any leafy green (I like spinach)
1 generous handful of shredded carrots

Cover pot and cook on high for 3.5 hours. You can stir once towards the end, but you don’t have to. (If you are using a regular pot, simmer, covered, until the veggies are cooked through – about 45 minutes.)

When it is finished, add 1 can of drained black beans and a cup of frozen peas for color.

This will feed 2 people, 4 meals. We add a small amount of protein like cooked ground turkey or roasted chicken, sour cream or hummus on top, and avocado.

 

La Brie en Rose

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

There are some universally acknowledged foods that go together: chocolate and peanut butter, strawberries and champagne, French fries and ketchup, brie and rose petal jam. Haven’t tried brie and rose petal jam, you say? Well, ma chère, let me school you, because this taste sensation is going to change your life.

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Homemade rose cupcake

If you haven’t noticed yet, I am partial to anything rose flavored. I had my first encounter many years ago at the famous Hollywood ice cream shop Mashti Malone’s. The moment I tasted their rosewater ice cream, I was forever hooked on anything rose. I bought some rose extract and started adding it to frosting, cocktails, ice cream…my husband wasn’t thrilled, but I was! Rose, rose, rose! And more rose!

One day, I stepped into a local Armenian market in my neighborhood. I love finding treasures in tiny ethnic markets; you always find something delicious that you never heard of. La Brie En Rose 2When I saw the rose petal jam on the shelf, I honestly did swoon with delight. There were a few different types. Some were very light-colored with nearly transparent petals that floated inside the jar like clouds. Some were bright pink and thick. And others were somewhere in the middle. I bought one of each.

Once I got the jars of jam home, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I tried some on toast, but it was way too sweet and, even though the rose flavor was balanced and floral, toast was not the right foil. I tried making rose macarons, and used the rose petal jam as the filling. They tasted amazing, but the jam oozed out of them, making a rose-flavored mess.

La Brie En Rose 3Around this time, fig jam and quince paste was all the rage on a cheese platter. One day, as I was preparing my same old platter, the brainstorm hit. The moment I had my first cracker, brie, and jam bite, I knew I had found appetizer nirvana. The sweetness of the jam complemented the creamy richness of the cheese perfectly. Add the crunch of a cracker to that and, mon Dieu, you will be hearing angels singing Edith Piaf and your mouth with will be swirling with a bouquet of delicate and buttery flavors. You will have no other choice but to repeat this process again and again until all the jam and cheese are gone.

Rose petal jam is now a frequent guest on my cheese platters. I would put it on every platter, but I feel bad for my poor husband, who wishes I were obsessed with peanut butter or hot sauce instead. It also makes a great hostess gift. I prefer the darker jams, as they seem to have a more intense rose flavor, but you really can’t go wrong.

Give your heart and soul to me, o’ rose petal jam, and life will always be la vie en rose.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Rose Petal Jam

 

You can find many different brands of rose petal jam at Amazon.