Sunday, December 22, 2013

Celebration Food: Amazing Punch, Savory Bread Wreath, Gravlax, Salted Chocolate Sour Cherry Bark, and More

the amazing punch

Last week we threw our first fete in the south, and though I planned smartly it was still an immense undertaking. We wrung our hands a bit about to throw or not-to-throw, because as newbies, who do we have to call on? What actual community exists, after living here just seven months? Well, it turns out we have some amazing friends, many who popped by to celebrate with us, digging in to some good eating and the cozy vibe of our enhanced home. It was kind of a gratitude party, and very festive, y'all!

Scroll to bottom for recipes....

sweet roasted peppers
gravlax and tzatziki

"popcorn" and eucalyptus branches

rosemary, sage, and garlic braided bread wreath

sour cherry-salted chocolate-granola bark

salted chocolate-dipped candied oranges

And now,  for the recipes!

Traditional Gravlax
Prepare three days in advance

2 sides wild salmon such as coho, keta, or sockeye
1 small bunch fresh dill, chopped
3/4 cup kosher salt
3/8 cup cane sugar
7 juniper berries

The name literally means buried salmon, and is a wonderful age-old recipe. Be sure to buy very fresh, wild salmon. The flesh will be firmer, more vibrant in color and flavorful, and connected to responsibly managed fishing practices. Rinse the fish and pat dry, and using pliers, remove any pin bones along the center seams. Position them in line, one mirroring the other, on top of cellophane. Make sure the cellophane extends beyond the salmon at least 3 inches in all directions.

Cover the fish in the chopped dill, piling more atop the wider and thicker areas. If you completely cover the fish and have extra leftover, save for another use. Mix together the sugar and salt and generously  pile on top of the fish, leaving no flesh exposed. Crush the juniper berries using a mortar and pestle and sprinkle over the salmon, dispersing more at the larger ends.

Use the cellophane to lift one side, flip one side onto the other. Pull the cellophane taut (no extra air space) to make a tight salmon package. Think of it as wrapping a tortilla around burrito contents: tidy and contained. Folding cellophane side-to-side and then top-bottom, enclose the salmon parcel completely.

Place the parcel in a baking dish or tray in the refrigerator. This will catch the liquid which collects as the fish cures.  Place another dish on top and fill it with heavy cans or jars from your pantry, to weight the fish parcel down. For the next three days at 12-hour intervals, turn the parcel over so that both sides cure evenly.

Once three days have passed, remove weights and unwrap the fish, rinse and lightly pat dry. I like to keep much of the dill intact, so I carefully rinse the sides of excess saltiness, but not so much that I remove the pretty dill surface. Use a very sharp knife and slice at an angle to achieve delicately thin but wide strips of delicious cured salmon. Serve with tzatziki (recipe below) or caper berries, boiled small potatoes, pumpernickel, or flatbreads.

Can be made 3 days in advance

1 medium container greek yogurt
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
5 Persian cucumbers (or 1/2 English/ 4 kirbys)*
1 large handful fresh dill, chopped
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1-2 tbsp good olive oil
freshly cracked pepper and sea salt

*Peel first if not organic, as much of the pesticide residue remains in the skin.

Slice the cucumbers very thinly on a mandoline or grater. In a large bowl stir together all ingredients thoroughly and taste. Adjust to your liking, transfer to a sealed container, and refrigerate until ready to use. Great with gravlax recipe above, on toast, on grilled meats, as a salad addition, and so much more. Keeps for 2 weeks.

Roasted Peppers
Can be prepared 2 days in advance

a variety of bell peppers*
good olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1-2 tbsp fresh rosemary quills

*I found that orange peppers offered the sweetest flavor, but a medley of different colors makes for a very festive presentation.

These make a wonderful addition to any antipasti platter and are much tastier (and less expensive) than their store bought relatives. The added satisfaction of making them yourself is great. Know that it - like anything - is a process, so enjoy it and cozy up with some good tunes and a glass of wine as you make this tasty dish.

Brush peppers in olive oil and grill over high heat (or over the open flame on a stove burner), turning as the skin blackens. The goal is to get all sides well-blackened, which helps the pepper skin release from the flesh. Transfer peppers - which collapse on themselves as they cook - to a bowl as they are done.

Allow to cool to room temp and then with your fingers, push the skin off the peppers so that what remains is the velvety pepper flesh. Gently pull the stem and seed-end off, then overturn the pepper onto a dish so that any juice may drip out. Tear into halves and clean out any remaining seeds, and with a sharp knife, cut into strips. Combine pepper strips, enough olive oil to "marinade" them, along with a scatter of salt and pepper to taste. Add the rosemary and refrigerate. Remove from fridge at least 1/2 hour before serving to allow them to come to room temp. Good for 5 days.

for more process and in-the-moment fun, follow me on Instagram

Candied Oranges
Prepare 2-3 days in advance

6 oranges*
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1 1/2 cups agave nectar
10 cardamom pods, bruised with the end of a knife
1 tbsp orange blossom water

*choose organic, as you'll be eating the skin and don't want to consume pesticide residue

I love this simple recipe and have prepared it a few times now. Enough in a batch to offer as gifts, these juicy morsels provide repeated satisfaction, over a stretch of time.

In a large pot, cover the oranges in water and bring to a boil. Drain, refill with water again and repeat twice more. This helps reduce the bitterness imparted by the pith. After the third time, empty oranges into a colander and allow to cool enough to handle. Cut oranges into wedges - use your judgement as to how large or small you'd like the segments to be. I cut at least 8 wedges per orange, and if it is larger, a greater number.

Use a damp sponge to wipe pot of any residue which may have accumulated, then pour in sugar and agave nectar, along with 5 cups water. Bring to a bare simmer, stirring often to dissolve sugar. Empty oranges into the liquid, along with the cardamom, and cover. Simmer for 3-4 hours, until syrup has reduced and oranges have become translucent.

Add orange blossom water, cool, and transfer to a container to refrigerate. With a slotted spoon, remove  orange segments from syrup and drain on parchment-lined baking sheets in advance of serving. Dry for at least a day. If you have plans to dip them in chocolate, do so a day before serving and refrigerate until shortly before guests arrive.

Strain syrup of its solids with a sieve, scraping any flesh with a spoon to press out its liquid. Store sealed in containers in the refrigerator. Great used in the punch recipe which follows, or with club soda, added to cocktails, and more. Will keep for a month.

Sour Cherry Salted Chocolate Granola Bark
Can be prepared 2 days in advance

1 lb bittersweet dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 cup dried sour cherries, coarsely chopped
2 cups granola of your choice
freshly cracked black pepper
flake sea salt

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet, and pour the granola into a pile.

Once the chocolate is molten, pour onto the granola, and using a rubber spatula, mix the two together thoroughly. As you mix, spread the chocolate-covered granola into an even layer on the baking sheet. Keep spreading until the mixture reaches the edges, which should end up a 1/4-inch thick or thereabouts.

Scatter the chopped cherries around, then add the cracked pepper all over, followed by the sea salt. The pepper actually ends up pretty subtle, despite what we anticipated. Use the sea salt as an accent more than a ground-cover - the unexpected saltiness will be a delight for any who indulge.

Once that is done, place it in a cool place to harden. With your hands, break the mixture into pieces. Refrigerate to store. Remove from fridge 1/2 hour before serving to allow the flavors to fully bloom. Keeps for 2 weeks (if it lasts that long).

Rosemary, Sage & Garlic Bread Wreath
Make day-before (and reheat) or day-of

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buttermilk, warm
1/4 cup water, warm
2 eggs
1/4 butter or coconut oil, room temperature
one packet dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
zest from one lemon
3 cloves garlic, chopped
a handful fresh rosemary
11 or so leaves of fresh sage, coarsely chopped
grey sea salt or flake salt - I used an herb sea salt that worked great
freshly ground black pepper
good olive oil

*You may also add chopped olives, shredded cheese, thinly sliced prosciutto, or other savory elements, as you like

Combine warm water, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl and allow to foam for a few minutes. Incorporate milk, oil/butter, eggs, salt, and lemon zest, and then mix in flour, one cup at a time. It may turn out that you do not need all the flour - as long as the mixture forms into a soft dough - so feel it out as you go.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it comes together neatly in a ball, about 3-5 minutes. Place the ball of dough into a large, lightly greased bowl, one that will accommodate the dough once it has doubled in size. Cover with cellophane and set aside in a warm place. I used my stovetop for this to maintain a soft warmth in the 1 1/2 hours it takes for the dough to rise.

Once it has doubled in size, turn the dough out onto lightly floured work surface and punch any air pockets out of it. Roll out to thirty inches long, by about 10-12 inches wide. Generously paint with olive oil, then sprinkle herbs, garlic, sea salt and cracked pepper. Roll from one side over, tightly coiling into a tube. Slice right down the length with a sharp knife in the center as you cut. Then, keeping the cut layers facing up, drape one side over the other and repeat, as if you are braiding (in two sections) the lengths of dough. Bring both ends together, and in one swift movement with a baking sheet lined in silpat or parchment paper nearby, bring wreath onto tray and make any final adjustments in twisting ends together. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).

Allow wreath to sit for another 30 minutes or so, until it becomes a bit puffed up. Paint the surface all over in olive oil, and place into oven to bake for 20 minutes, or until top edges become golden. Lower temp to 325 and bake for an additional 10 minutes if you prefer crisp bread, or remove from oven an cool on a wire rack if you prefer it softer. Serve with a good olive oil for dunking. Refrigerate any unused portion and eat within 3 days.

Amazing Punch
Assemble 15 minutes before you anticipate your guests' arrival*

Bourbon or Whiskey - I used Jim Beam and then Jameson's for the second round
Sparkling wine
Vodka - I used Tito's
Sour Cherry Juice
Orange-cardamom syrup*
2-3 satsumas or clementines, thinly sliced
7-11 fresh sage leaves
*Ice mold should be frozen a day before

This punch will certainly help you and your guests have a jolly good time. Use the ratios as a guideline for you to feel free to experiment further. Modify as you like and ultimately, have fun with it.

One day before your festivities, find a mold that will fit your bowl - ice cube trays, jello mold, bundt mold, etc. - and fill 1/3 full with water and freeze for 4 hours. Layer the citrus slices with the sage leaves, allowing the sage to peak through. Remember that the bottom will actually be the top, and whatever is closest to that will be easiest seen. Freeze again for 2 hours. At this stage, I left the mold on the freezer shelf and carefully poured (from a cup with a spouted rim) the remaining liquid - sour cherry juice - to fill it to the top. Better to do it that way if you can, so that you aren't faced with making a mess on your way back to the freezer.

In a punch bowl or other large bowl, pour in a base of whiskey or bourbon. I used half a bottle to start off. Add the full bottle of sparkling wine, followed by 1/3 bottle vodka. I used 1/2 bottle of sour cherry juice to complete the ice mold, as I didn't want water to dilute the flavor of the punch as the evening wore on. Add the remainder of cherry juice to the alcohol mixture. Finish by adding 1 - 1 1/2 cups orange cardamom syrup, and taste. Adjust to your liking. Stock extras of each to replenish as the party gets into full swing.

De-mold the ice by placing the mold in a pan of hot water for a few minutes. Lift it out and invert it, supporting the ice with your hands underneath so it doesn't come crashing out. If you don't feel any give, place it back in the warm water for a minute or two further. Repeat, and once you feel it loosen from the mold, bring it to the punch bowl, re-invert, and gently place into the punch.

Thank me later. Go now and enjoy a festive, rollicking time with this easy-to-prepare, delicious punch!

As the year winds down, we are so thankful for many things: our health, the generosity of new (and old) relationships, family bonds, wit and humor when life feels precarious, and always, the comfort of each other, alongside a good drink and food.

And, thank YOU for being here with me as I share my adventures. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to you and yours. xxxooo


  1. The food and (aptly named!) punch were every bit as delicious as your pictures of them are lovely.


  2. The food makes me feel like everyday is Christmas - a time for celebration when it's tempting to eat a lot. How I love to have these food around every day.

    Oh wait..I guess that centerpiece would be for our table in our Restaurants in Ketchum. .