Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte

Pumpkin spice lattes have officially hit every coffee shop and cafe here in Seattle and while I love the warming and spicy flavors of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice, I often find that pumpkin spice drinks are just way too sweet for my taste. I'll call it the Starbucks effect. So my solution, of course, was to make my own (this is my solution for a lot of things, some of which turn out well and others do not...). But this recipe turned out very well and it's one that I'll be making again throughout fall and maybe even into winter. Or at least until it gets too cold and rainy and then only mulled wine will suffice. Anyway, I hope you try this delicious and only slightly sweet pumpkin spice chai latte because it is truly a necessary part of fall. Trust me. 


// Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte // makes 8 cups
You'll want to make a full batch of this pumpkin spice chai latte to keep in the fridge for cold mornings or cozy afternoons. If you don't have the space, though, or you're not as much of a pumpkin spice fan as I am, you can halve the recipe. Also feel free to play around with the spices and sweetness until you find a balance that works for you. 

8 cups whole milk or milk of your choice
1/4 cup maple syrup

3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon cardamom pods
1 whole nutmeg, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons loose black tea
1 inch knob fresh ginger, cut into rounds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, whisk together milk and maple syrup. Gently heat over medium-low heat until milk is just simmering - don't let boil! 

2. While milk is heating, place all spices (cinnamon through ginger) in either a mesh bag (like a nut milk bag or vegetable storage bag) or in the center of some cheesecloth. Cinch bag closed or tie ends of cheesecloth together and place spices in milk along with vanilla and salt. Turn heat to low and let steep for 45-50 minutes or more, depending on taste preference

3. Remove and discard spices. Serve chai hot with a dollop of steamed milk or whipped cream and a zest of freshly grated nutmeg


Walnut Anise Biscotti

Truthfully, I'm not much of a cookie person (Gasp!). I'd much rather have bowl of ice cream or a slice of pie if I'm going to indulge in a sweet, but biscotti have a special place in my heart for two reasons:

1. Growing up I would make biscotti for my dad because he IS a cookie person. He likes the whole gamut - chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, snickerdoodles, molasses, etc... etc... and of course biscotti. The first time I made them for him, though, I don't think he really understand what I was saying. Bis-cot-ti. In his snow and mountain driven mind they were Big Skis, both in shape and in name. So now biscotti will always remind me of my dad and his love for cookies and skiing.

2. They're Italian and everything from Italy tastes good. Right? Pasta, espresso, gelato, pizza, affogato, mozzarella, wine,  I could go on and on. I have yet to make my way across the Italian border, but when I do, I will most definitely be eating some Italian biscotti (among many other delicious things...). Italy is very, very high in my 'top places to go' list

Despite not being 'cookie person', these biscotti were gone in about three days. With the help of Noah, of course, who is a 'cookie person', like my dad. They're just the right blend between crisp and crunchy, but not so crumbly that they dolefully fall apart after dunking a hot cup of tea or coffee (big pet peeve). I learned a nifty trick from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book to process the sugar and eggs in a food processor before mixing in the flour so that air gets incorporated into the dough. This makes the biscotti light and airy rather than dense and tooth-shattering. Big win. Even if cookies aren't your favorite treat, I highly recommend giving these a try. You'll thank me later :)  

// Walnut Anise Biscotti // makes about 20 cookies
This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite baking guides - Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. The reason I like this book (and their other books) so much is because they go into why a recipe works, not just how to a recipe is put together. For these light and crunchy biscotti, the secret is to process the eggs and sugar in the food processor so that air is incorporated into the dough. Without this air, the cookies would be much more dense and heavy. If you don't have a food processor, you could try beating the eggs and sugar with a handheld mixer.
 
1 1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cane sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons anise powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325° and adjust rack to the middle of oven. Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper

2. Pulse 1 cup of walnuts in a food processor until coarsely ground, about 8-10 pulses. Remove walnuts from food processor and set aside in a bowl until needed. Process remaining 1/4 cup of walnuts until finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flours, baking soda, and salt. Process until well mixed. Transfer flour mixture to another bowl and set aside

3. Add 2 eggs to empty food processor and process until light in color, about 3 minutes. While motor is running, slowly add maple syrup and sugar. Process for a few seconds then add melted butter, anise, and vanilla. Process until well combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer egg mixture to a medium bowl. Add half of the flour mixture to the eggs and gently fold it in. Repeat for second half of flour, being careful to not over mix. Fold in roughly chopped walnuts

4. Divide dough in half and gently form each piece into a 6-8 x 3 inch rectangle. Smooth down the tops and sides as best you can then brush tops with egg white. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until loaves are golden brown and just beginning to crack on top. Remove loaves from oven and let cool on sheet for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, use a serrated knife to cut loaves into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices on a wire rack, cut-side down, and bake for another 30-35 minutes, flipping slices halfway through. Let cool completely

5. To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners sugar and orange juice in a small bowl. Glaze biscotti after they're cool and garnish with orange zest if desired. 

Enchanted Valley + Trail Cookies

I'm writing this as I sit on the front porch of my childhood home in Vermont, savoring a cup of hot tea with milk and honey and trying to fight the urge to nap instead of write. In front of me, across the gravel road, is a sunny, green cow pasture dotted with blooming wildflowers. The cows just went in for milking and we (my dad, Noah, and I) just got back from a quick mountain bike ride on the single track crisscossing the woods in back of our house. Life is good. Coming back home is always good. A respite from the go, go, go of city life in Seattle. 

But this post isn't about Vermont, it's about our recent trip into the Olympic National Park to the Enchanted Valley. There is something so deeply satisfying about heading off into the woods with everything you need (hopefully...) strapped to your back. This was actually my first backpacking trip ever and I'm kind of embarrassed to say that. I've done plenty of hiking and car camping, but for some reason have never actually gone on an overnight backpacking trip. What was I thinking! Backpacking is awesome and now I'm hooked.

The trail that we chose for my first hike was a pretty easy one. Mostly flat, well-traveled, and easily done in 4 days. We had heard that the Enchanted Valley was, well, enchanting, and definitely a highlight of the Olympic Peninsula, so we decided to give it a try for Noah's birthday weekend. My plan was to make some trail bars for the hike, but two days before we were supposed to leave I got a nasty 24 hour bug and spent the next few days recovering. Needless to say, the trail bars didn't happen, but the following recipe for trail cookies will be on the snack list for next time.

I'm not going to narrate every step of our trip because that would make this a long and boring post, but here are the the highlights that we will remember:

- The gravel road. At the beginning and end of our trip we had to hike along a two mile stretch of gravel road to Grave's Creek Campground where the trailhead to the Enchanted Valley started. Winter storms had washed out a section of the road, making impassable by car. It was fine at the beginning, we had fresh legs. But on the last day those two miles were torture. We were exhausted from the 15 miles we had just hiked out from the valley and my footwear wasn't the best so my feet were on fire with blisters. Noah and I didn't talk for those two miles. The rest of the trip was great, though!

- Our first night was spent at Pyrites campsite after hiking in for about 13 miles. We were definitely glad that we stopped here instead of continuing on to the Valley because those last four miles on the second day were the prettiest and we wanted to see it in the morning light

- The forest! We weren't strangers to the Olympic Peninsula or National Park, but every time we go we're reminded of how beautiful it is. The old growth trees - firs, cedars, and hemlocks - are draped with lichen and the forest is intersperested with light-filled meadows and crystal clear streams. Berries are everywhere - blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, blueberries... Enchanting indeed. The only drawback was that we didn't see any black bears. Almost every other hiker we talked to did :( 

- The blowdowns. Holy moly the blowdowns! At one point in the hike we came to the river and it looked like a massive giant had stormed through the valley. Huge trees were blown down in every direction over and in the river and the trail turned into an obstacle course. Thankfully, we weren't the first ones hiking in since the winter storms, so a nice path through and over the trees had already been established

- When we made it to the Valley and chalet on the second day, we opted to camp down by the river rather than up in the main campsite by the tree line. Our campsite was well equipped with a clothes line (noah carved some clothespins), a table made out of sun bleached wood from the riverbed and a tree stump for a base, and a some log benches next to the fire. It was a perfect setup and the privacy was great

- That first night in the Valley, right after collecting firewood, we were hit by a heavy downpour. We were just able to string up the tent footprint over the log benches as a tarp roof before the worst of the rain hit. We stayed mostly dry :) Thankfully we had started a fire before going to get firewood, so we had hot coals to work with when the rain came

- Showering under waterfalls = best showers ever. It was a bit of a trek to get to the thinly cascading waterfall on the other side of the Valley, but so worth the effort after a day of hiking and sweating profusely

- On our way out on the last day, we hiked most of the trail with a ranger who entertained us with stories of his time with the Park Service and Navy. When we were passing through the blowdown section, his radio chatter started going and we heard that someone in the trail crew working with chainsaws had been 'tagged'. We couldn't figure out what had happened until we rounded a bend and saw a section of the path blocked off. Apparently one of them had disturbed a hornet's nest and was stung multiple times. Yikes!

It was a short trip, but definitely a good one. I can't wait to set out and explore more trails and forests by foot with everything that we need strapped to our back. Including these trail cookies (recipe below)
 


// Trail Cookies // Makes 12 cookies
These cookies are everything a trail cookie should be: salty, sweet, not crumbly, covered in chocolate, and easily eaten by hand. Unfortunately these ones didn't make it on our hike to the Enchanted Valley because I came down with a nasty 24-hour bug two days before we left, but they will definitely be in our packs for the next trip. Or maybe before that... 

Dry ingredients
1 3/4 cups spelt flour
2/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup peanuts
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Wet ingredients
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In medium bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well

2. In large bowl, stir together the ground flax seed and water and let sit five minutes. Add the remaining wet ingredients to the flax seeds and mix until well combined. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until a dough has formed

3. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup of dough onto the parchment paper about 1 inch apart (they won't spread much while baking). Flatten cookies into a round, disk shape. Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack

Fresh Shrimp Summer Rolls with Coconut-Lemongrass Dipping Sauce

Hello! How is your summer going? We've been (finally) enjoying some warm weather here in Seattle and it feels like we're packing a lot into our days. A few weeks ago Noah and I spent some much needed time out in the woods on the Olympic Peninsula. We visited the Enchanted Valley, which was my first actual overnight backpacking trip ever! Kind of embarrassed to say that seeing that I've traveled all over the globe and camped at least a million times... But now I'm hooked and can't wait to strap a 40lb pack on my back again and go on some more deep woods adventures! If you want to read more about our trip, check back in a week or two - we're planning a post about it. 

This week, though, we're talking about fresh shrimp summer rolls with a coconut-lemongrass dripping sauce. So good!! We make fresh rolls quite often in the summer because they're relatively easy to make once you get the hang of rolling them up (my job, not Noah's ;). And they don't require turning on the oven, which is a big plus on hot summer nights. These shrimp came straight down from Alaska gratis from Noah's parents (thanks!) and they are so sweet and delicious. If you decide to make this recipe (which I hope you do), please go for the good quality and sustainably caught shrimp because they're totally worth it - both for your taste buds and for the environment. Much of the frozen shrimp that are in the grocery store have been washed with chlorine to kill bacteria or treated with other chemicals. This leaves a definite chlorine or bleach taste on the shrimp that - to me - is unacceptable. Furthermore, shrimp harvesting practices range from sustainable to downright destructive. So please - do your research and care about where your food comes from. 


// Fresh Shrimp Summer Rolls with Coconut-Lemongrass Dipping Sauce // makes 6 large rolls
Summer rolls are one of my favorite summer meals because they are fresh and light for hot days. Not to mention delicious! But, they are kind of time consuming to make... Totally worth it, though, in my opinion! You can even use up random ingredients in the fridge or garden without having to run to the store. Try different protein, veggie, and dip combinations. If this is your first time rolling rice paper wrappers, the first few rolls that you make probably won't look too pretty, but keep at it! They'll get better with practice :)

For the Coconut-Lemongrass Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
1/4 cup lime juice
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Noodles:
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated cane sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces bean thread noodles
4 cups boiling water

Summer Roll Fillings:
12 large, frozen and thawed shrimp, uncooked and unshelled - about 1 pound
1 small ripe mango, sliced into strips
1 small avocado, sliced into strips
1/4 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
12 long strips of red bell pepper
12 large butter lettuce leaves, more if needed
~1/4 cup each of fresh thai basil, mint, and cilantro
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
12 summer roll wrappers

1. To make the coconut-lemongrass dipping sauce, place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high-speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour sauce into a bowl and refrigerate until needed

2. To make the noodles, place dry noodles in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and salt. Bring 4 cups water (roughly - no need to measure) to a boil. Pour hot water over noodles and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water. Let drain again until all water has been removed. Toss noodles with sauce and let sit until ready to make rolls

3. To cook the shrimp, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, salt heavily and turn heat down to medium-high. Add the shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp are red and tails have curled under slightly. Drain and rinse with cool water. Remove shells

4. To make rolls, lay out all filling ingredients on plates and platters so they are accessible. Fill a pie dish or large bowl with warm water for rehydrating rice wrappers (you will need to keep replenishing the warm water as it cools). Place one wrapper in warm water and let sit for 1 minute. When soft, lay wrapper flat on a dish towel. Place 1 butter lettuce leaf in the center followed by ~2 tablespoons noodles, 1 slice mango, 1 slice avocado, 1 strip bell pepper, 2 shrimp, 1 teaspoon peanuts, 1 teaspoon scallions, and 2 leaves each of basil, mint, and cilantro. Fold the left and right sides of the wrapper toward the center over the ingredients. Then fold the bottom side of the wrapper up over the center. Using your fingers to hold the ingredients in place, start to roll up from the bottom, making sure the sides stay folded in and the ingredients aren't pushed out the top. Continue to roll until you have reached the top and the 'package' is complete


Spain part 2: Basque Country + A Spanish Tortilla

Welcome to Spain part 2! After exploring Barcelona by foot and bike for a few days, we rented a car and headed west toward wine and Basque Country. Our first stop was Logrono where we got our first taste of real Spanish (or Basque) tapas called pintxos. We sampled them according to tradition - hopping from bar to bar (each bar is known for its special pintxos) and with copious amounts of red wine. If you aren't familiar with pintxos, they're basically little bites of food skewered on top of crusty baguette slices with a toothpick. Bars display plates loaded with a wide variety of colorful pintxos on their countertops and patrons choose the ones that they want. You pay for the toothpicks later. The great thing about pintxos is that wine is basically free. Seriously! Single pintxos cost anywhere between 2-6 euros and you usually get a half glass of wine with that :) Truthfully, though, Noah and I were a bit disappointed with our pintxos experience in Logrono. There were only a few amazing standouts - freshly grilled fish and turkey and buttery mushrooms with a tiny shrimp on top. The rest of the pintxos were ok, but that was probably because they sat out on countertops for hours to accommodate the tourists who eat between 5-7pm and the locals who eat any time after 9pm. Definitely go for the pintxos that are grilled or sautéed to order! Another pintxo peculiarity that dismayed us was that after ordering, the pintxos get zapped in a microwave. We'd point to a tasty looking one that had beautiful ribbons of Iberico ham on top and before we could say "no microwave" into the microwave it went for 60 long seconds. The ham (or whatever else was on top) would come out sad looking and defeated. Sigh. Again, go for the pintxos that are fresh. 

After Logrono, we made a pit stop in the medieval defense-turned-wine town of Laguardia. No cars are allowed in the walled area, so we spent the rainy, chilly afternoon walking the narrow stone streets and ducking into little bodegas for snacks and wine. A bodega is basically a wine cellar that serves pintxos and local - often made-in-house - wine. Underneath Laguardia is a honeycomb of wine cellars and we decided to visit the caves of Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre for a wine tour. Unfortunately, the next tour wasn't in English, but it was really cool to see the musty, moldy old cellar where their wine is made and aged. Coming from a country where almost everything food-related is sterile and stainless steel, it was striking to see the balls of mold on the walls and bottles caked in grime. These people know the benefits of good bacteria! 

After leaving Laguardia, we headed north to the heart of beautiful Basque country. We passed epic landscapes of vibrant green hills, abandoned stone villages, and densely wooded forests. Basque country is easily one of the prettiest places I've visited yet and that's just from seeing it during early spring. We'd love to go back in summer! Our stop for the next three nights was in a tiny, tiny town called Elortza. We had booked an airbnb there mainly because the host has two donkeys and I have a huge soft spot the furry beasts. This stop turned out to be one of our favorite highlights from the trip. Phil - our host - took us on a day hike with the donkeys (Momo and Django) into the surrounding hills and we explored the depths of a crystal-studded limestone cave. Amazing! Hiking with donkeys is not a rushed affair, so we took our time and enjoyed the fresh air and Basque countryside. The recipe inspired by this leg of our trip is a Spanish tortilla that Momo made every effort to eat when we stopped for lunch atop a steep bluff overlooking the valley. Who knew donkeys liked eggs and potatoes?! 

The last leg of our journey through Basque country was along the northern Bay of Biscay coast from Elantxobe - a tiny fishing town built into steep coastal hills that slide into the ocean - to Zarautz, one of our favorite towns that we visited in Spain. The road between the two towns is rugged and beautiful, dotted with small villages with names like Ea and Lekeitio. Zarautz is a mid-size town right on the coast with a great, laid back feel and a gigantic sandy beach. We didn't spend much time in the popular San Sebastion, but I got the feeling that Zarautz was sort of like its lesser known cousin with amazing boutique shops and great restaurants. Our airbnb host sent us on a great walk from the town center of Zarautz along backroads to the neighboring town of Getaria. We passed an abandoned and graffitied coliseum that definitely looked out of place amid the vineyards and sheep pastures, but would be a perfect venue for a music or skateboarding video. I practiced my handstands. In Getaria, we spent a few hours walking around, had a fantastic lunch, then walked back along the coastal footpath to Zarautz, taking some time to sit on the rocks and watch the ocean splash at our feet 

Next up: Southern France and a decadent breakfast


// Spanish Tortilla // serves 6-8
A Spanish tortilla isn't what you normally think of when you hear 'tortilla'. Most people think of Latin American tortillas made out of flour or corn and food like quesadillas, tacos, fajitas, etc... But a Spanish tortilla has neither flour or corn - it's made almost entirely of potatoes, eggs, onion, and olive oil. It's kind of like a frittata, but better. A note about the olive oil: this recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of olive oil. Don't freak out, you don't actually consume all that oil, it's just used to fry the potatoes and onions and the rest is saved for another use (like salad dressings). I added kale to this recipe because I'm a greens fanatic, but feel free to leave it out for a more traditional version. Oh, and watch out for donkeys - they like Spanish tortillas.

1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, about 1 1/2 cups sliced
2 pounds yukon gold or russet potatoes
2 1/4 teaspoons salt (2 teaspoons if you're sensitive to salt)
8 eggs
1/2 cup packed parsley, chopped
6 large lacinato kale leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Gently heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed deep frying pan or skillet. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion slices and cook for 8-10 minutes or until they're translucent, but not super soft. Stir often

2. While the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4" thick rounds. Add the potatoes and salt to the onions and oil. Try to submerge the potatoes as best you can under the oil for even cooking. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes over low heat, checking on the potatoes every so often to make sure they're all cooking evenly (i.e. stir and flip as needed). The potatoes are done when they can be easily pierced with a  fork or knife. With a slotted spoon, transfer onions and potatoes into a colander placed over a bowl to catch the extra oil. Pour out remaining oil from pan and save for another use

3. Crack eggs into a large bowl and whisk until well combined. Whisk in most of the parsley and all of the kale if using (reserve some parsley for garnish). Add 3 tablespoons of oil back into the frying pan and turn heat on low. Layer onions and potatoes in the skillet, flattening them out as best you can. Pour eggs over onions and potatoes and cook for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat. Gently pull away the sides of the tortilla from the pan with a spatula to allow eggs to run over the side and cook. When eggs are mostly done, place tortilla in oven to finish cooking for 3-5 minutes. Turn oven on to broil and broil top for 1-2 minutes. Remove tortilla from oven, let cool 5 minutes then either flip tortilla upside down onto a plate or slide it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature 


Smoky Sweet Potato Hummus

Hummus is a staple in our house. We eat it mainly with carrots and mushrooms and bell peppers, but it's also a great spread for a quick open-faced sandwich or as a dip on a mediterranean platter (one of our favorite meals). I always try to have a fresh batch in the fridge, which helps keeps us away from the less healthy snacks. Sometimes, not always. Currently I'm addicted to those little crunchy Asian puffed rice snacks. It's bad! But then again, we don't have any hummus in the fridge, so there you go... 

As good as plain, traditional hummus is (just chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and maybe tahini), I like to mix things up a bit every now and then. This version has the awesome combo of sweet potatoes and smoked paprika. Yum! I hope you give it a try :)

And next time you hear from us we'll be in SPAIN! 


// Smoky Sweet Potato Hummus // makes about 3 cups
I like to make my hummus from dried chickpeas, but canned would work well here too. I have two tricks for making really smooth hummus from dried beans: 1. Use chickpeas just after cooking them. When the chickpeas are hot,  they blend up into a creamier hummus 2. Use some of the cooking liquid to thin out the hummus. This adds more flavor than plain water

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked until tender (about 15 minutes) - save the cooking liquid!
1 pound sweet potatoes, baked at 350° for 1 hour or until easily pierced with a knife
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cooking water from chickpeas or plain water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch cayenne

1.   Place all ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender and blend until very smooth, about 5-7 minutes. Scrape down sides as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference. Let cool, then store in fridge in an airtight container


Mozzarella + Pomegranate Salad

Is it just me, or is anyone else ready for spring? I feel like we're getting teased here in Seattle with a handful of beautiful sunny, warm days followed by a week of blustery, rainy  ones that leave me feeling antsy. Cabin fever! Noah and I did brave the shifty weather this past weekend by going on an overnight bike ride to Woodinville. It's about a 25 mile ride one-way on a rails-to-trails path. We rented a really cute Airbnb and did some wine tasting once we got out there. It was  a great quick break from the normal routine. This year Noah and I have both decided that we want to do more traveling and go on more adventures. It's scary how easily you can fall into a routine and not noticed how fast the weeks and months go by! 

Speaking of travel, we'll be getting on a plane in a few weeks and heading overseas to Spain. I can't wait! We're planning on posting lots of photos and adventure stories and maybe even some recipes if we ever getting around to cooking amidst all the delicious food we are sure to encounter. I'm so excited for tapas :) This week, while housesitting for friends, we want to sit down and plan out some fun things to do over there. Anybody have any suggestions or ideas?  Our only itinerary right now is spending a few days in Barcelona before renting a car and heading north toward the coast. We'll have three weeks to go where we want and do as we please :)

Now on to the recipe. I came up with this mozzarella and pomegranate salad this winter because I cannot get enough of pomegranates when they're in season. I love the meditative task of taking out the seeds, I love their bright red color, I love their tart-sweet juiciness, and I love the burst of  flavor as you bite into them. (Ok, I don't love the stain they leave on the cutting board and my fingers, but I'm willing to overlook that because their season is so short). I was also ready for some spring flavors, so I threw in some chopped up mint, basil, and fresh lemon to liven things up.  The soft, sweet mozzarella balls are a nice contrast to the firm, tangy pomegranate seeds. I'm hoping someday that I'll be able to master making these at home, but that has not happened yet... 


// Mozzarella + Pomegranate Salad // serves 4-6
This salad comes together super quick and is a great  easy lunch or light appetizer. Pomegranates are only in season during the winter months  (October - February), but substitutions could be make for a refreshing summer salad.  I'd probably swap out the pomegranates for strawberries or raspberries. Melon balls might be interesting to try as well. Use full-fat mozzarella for best results

 16 oz small mozzarella balls (2 oz containers)
1 small bunch of lacinato kale, about 2 cups packed and cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup packed basil, chiffonaded
Scant 1/4 cup mint, chiffonaded
1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds, about 1 medium-large pomegranate
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

1. Drain mozzarella balls in a colendar and set aside

2. In a medium bowl, combine the kale and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Gently massage kale with fingers until kale turns dark green, about 1-2 minutes

3. Add basil, mint, pomegranate seeds, red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss in mozzarella balls. Taste and season with more salt if needed and black pepper
 


Lemony Quinoa Dolmas

I looove dolmas. They're my go-to snack when I'm out grocery-shopping or running errands and need a snack stat. I get hangry pretty quick.... They're also great on mediterranean platters, which Noah and I have at least once a month - olives, sliced bell peppers, hummus, cucumbers, crackers, cheese, dolmas, etc... In fact, we ate our last dolmas on a plate such as this while watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday. Definitely not your typical Super Bowl fare! 

I've made dolmas from scratch a couple of times before, and while they're a bit time consuming, the pay off is huge. The store bought kind are good, but can be somewhat mushy on the inside, you know what I mean? Homemade dolmas retain their texture and flavor and are much cheaper than buying them pre-made. Plus, they store really well in the fridge so big batches go a long way. 

I made these dolmas with somewhat unconventional ingredients. Traditional dolmas are basically rice, onion, garlic, lemon, and maybe dried fruit or even meat. I used quinoa (rice could be substituted), lots of parsley, mint, lemon, and almonds. The insides are totally adjustable to your liking, but the outside grape leaf is what really makes the dolma. I made the mistake of not reading the instructions on the grape leaf jar (rookie move) and just used them straight from their soaking juices. Apparently you're supposed to rinse them first and them steam the leaves to make them more tender... Next time :)  


// Lemony Quinoa Dolmas // Makes a lot... Maybe about  5-6 dozen?
These dolmas are time consuming, so only attempt them if you have a few hours to spare. But, once they're made you have a  delicious, healthy snack ready to go. I used quinoa here, but you can also use brown rice or other whole grain if you prefer. Also adjust the seasonings and flavors to your liking. I think next time I'd add chopped raisins or currents for a touch of sweetness or maybe some crumbled feta

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 cups water

2 lemons, zested
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup packed parsley, chopped
1/4 cup packed mint, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne
1 jar of grape leaves
Olive oil for storing in fridge
Sea salt

1. Place the quinoa and water in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, then turn heat down to low. Cover and let cook for 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool

2. In a large bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, mint, almonds, olive oil, garlic, salt, and cayenne. Stir well then add cooled quinoa. Toss to combine and adjust seasonings as needed

3. Remove grape leaves from jar and rinse under cool water, separate each leaf as much as possible. Place leaves in a steamer and steam for 3-5 minutes. Depending on how many leaves you have, you may need to do this in batches to make sure all leaves get steamed evenly. Remove leaves from steamer and let cool on a clean towel

4. To make the dolmas, lay out a few grape leaves on a clean, flat surface. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon into the middle of each leaf. Fold in the sides of the leaf over the filling, then roll them up from bottom to top. This is probably going take practice, so don't get discouraged when your first few don't turn out ;) 

5. Place finished dolmas in a glass baking dish or storage container. When all dolmas are made, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt to help them soften and marinade. Store in fridge


2016-0126 - Dolmas_0267.jpg

Salted Chocolate Fudge

Deeply chocolately with a zing salt, this fudge is ridiculously good. So good that it won Honorable Mention in a recent recipe contest. I actually developed the recipe by accident. I was attempting to make a chocolate pot de creme, but when the chocolate cooled, it hardened more than anticipated and become a decadent chocolate fudge instead. No complaints there. Noah, unfortunately (fortunately?) wasn't able to help me polish these off. You see, he hasn't eaten chocolate for almost 20 years. One day when he was 13 or 14 he decided that he was simply going to give up chocolate (!). I have no idea how he 1. has made it that long and 2. didn't sneak a bite while taking these scrumptious pictures. Or maybe he did... I don't know, I wasn't home... Anyway this fudge is good. I savored it as an after lunch treat almost every day at work until it was gone and I'm contemplating making more. Last time I did a touch of cayenne powder, but it would also be good with other spices like cinnamon, chipotle, or ginger. What's your favorite chocolate pairing?     


// Salted Chocolate Fudge // makes enough for 1-20 depending on your affinity for chocolate
I like my chocolate dark, as in 70, 80, or 90% cacao, so this fudge is not for the milk-chocolate lovers. You can try using a lower cacao chocolate (such as 60%) if you want a milder fudge or add another tablespoon or two of sugar to balance out the bitterness. You can also play with some add-ins such as nuts, seeds, spices, etc... to get unique flavor combos. Or not... it's pretty darn good as it is.   

10 ounces 70% chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup half and half or non-dairy creamer
1-2 tablespoons cane sugar, depending on how sweet you want it
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon or less cayenne pepper or other spice for flavoring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder for dusting, optional

1. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over medium heat

2. While the chocolate is melting, pulse the cashews in a food processor or high speed blender until mostly smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Let sit until chocolate is ready 

3. When the chocolate is melted, add the coconut oil and whisk until fully incorporated. Whisk in the half and half (or non-dairy creamer), vanilla extract, cane sugar, salt, and cayenne or other spice. Let cook for another 1-2 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the food processor or high speed blender with the cashews. Process until very smooth, about 4-5 minutes. 

5. Optional: strain the chocolate through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl, stirring continuously to speed up the process. This will result in a smoother fudge

6. Pour the chocolate into ramekins, porcelain cups, or a glass bread loaf pan. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 4 hours. 

7. When chocolate has set, loosen the edges of the chocolate by running a butter knife along the edges. Invert the ramekins or baking dish to dislodge the fudge. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and dust with cocoa powder