Playing With Fire

Food is simply more fun when you can set it on fire. Don’t believe me? Clearly, you need more saganaki in your life.

What Is Saganaki?

Although most people associate the word saganaki with gooey cheese that’s pan fried and served hot, the word itself actually refers to the cast iron pan itself. A wide variety of appetizers, or Greek tapas, if you will, fall under the category. Given the popularity of molten cheese though, 9.5 times out of 10, this is the version most people think of.

Fire isn’t a mandatory or even traditional ingredient. It was first presented with this theatrical flare at the Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Given the opportunity to set food on fire, however, why would you chose anything else?

How To Make Vegan Saganaki

Vegan saganaki is made just the like classic by simply swapping out the dairy. Of course, there’s no direct non-dairy translation for traditional kasseri cheese, but plenty of respectable substitutes. Plant-based feta is your best bet, since it melts reasonably for that satisfying gooey interior, has a strong flavor that can stand up to the alcohol infusion, and is widely available in most markets. My favorite vegan feta options, in order, are:

  • Violife
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Daiya

The key is to buy only full blocks, not crumbles or cubes, and nothing tofu-based which is impervious to melting. Of course, meltability is both an asset and a flaw for this preparation. Instead of staying firm but gooey, like a runny brie at room temperature, vegan feta tends to lose all structure and form, liquefying into a rich, creamy dip with a glorious toasty surface. Plant-based saganaki is possibly an improvement over the original, because this version has further applications, such as:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Pizza topping
  • Spanikopita filling

What To Serve With Saganaki

Flaming cheese alone doesn’t make a meal, but it can become a central facet of a well-curated array of savory bites. Whether this is the prelude to a full entree or the main event itself is all in the portions. Classic accompaniments and serving suggestions include:

  • Crusty bread, toast, or crackers
  • Pita wedges, grilled or warmed
  • Olives
  • Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
  • Hummus
  • Mediterranean or shirazi salad
  • Raw crudites, like sliced cucumbers, carrots, or celery
  • Roasted or grilled vegetables, like red bell peppers, zucchini, or eggplant

Tips For Success

  1. Any high-proof spirit will work in this recipe. Try ouzo to keep it Greek, or use vodka for a more neutral flavor.
  2. Safety first! Turn off stove and remove the pan before adding alcohol. Use a long lighter to ignite the cheese, or light the end of a piece of dried linguine or spaghetti first to act as a conduit.
  3. To make this recipe gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose.
  4. Make a smaller batch by cutting your feta in half or even quarters, and adjusting the remaining ingredients accordingly. It’s more about the technique than exact measurements.Like moths, we’re all inexorably drawn to the flames. When you want to start an event with a bang, impress someone special, or just play with fire, this will be your new favorite party trick.

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Radicalized Radicchio

I do not like radicchio.

Full stop.

Maybe that’s not the most enticing way to start a post about a radicchio recipe, but I’m nothing if not honest here.

Radicchio, miniature heads of tender red leaf lettuce, have a delicate, feathery appearance. They seem ethereal, soft as if they could float away, yet eye-catching for their molted mulberry hue.

Bitterness is not a bad thing in itself; it’s essential for contrast and balance in a dish, to fully appreciate sweetness when it rings true. The bitterness in radicchio, however, is something else. It’s bitter like a freezing rain whipping in a cold wind. It’s bitter like Ebenezer Scrooge before his encounter with three spirits.

Radicchio macro

How can you tame the bitterness of radicchio?

All is not lost when radicchio darkens your vegetable crisper. The secret is really quite simple:

  1. Cut it into thin strips or finely shave it.
  2. Soak it in ice water for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Drain and thoroughly dry.

That’s it! Like magic, the once biting acridity has been de-fanged. Now the question remains…

What’s the best way to cook radicchio?

Actually, that’s a trick question. While it is suitable for stir-frying, sauteing, braising, and roasting, I happen to find the milder version quite pleasant raw.

Radicchio Purple Potato Salad

Allow me to introduce: The Purple Potato Salad.

Unlike conventional takes on the concept, the potatoes are roasted with autumnal herbs and spices for a warm finish and crispy edges. It’s still all about contrasts here, with fresh radicchio providing a tender-crisp bite against the creamy flesh of purple sweet potatoes. More floral and fragrant than their orange brethren, they’re worth seeking out for a truly showstopping magenta masterpiece. Nutty, buttery roasted chestnuts round out any remaining sharp edges to the radicchio, coupled with the crunch of toasted pine nuts. Like any thoughtful salad, it’s not just a random pile of leftover ingredients, but a carefully assembled composition.

How can you make this recipe your own?

Think seasonally and you can’t go too far wrong. Other complimentary additions could include:

Radicchio Purple Potato Salad

Still think radicchio is beyond redemption?

Take it from a reformed hater: It’s all about proper prep. Anything can be made delicious with the right care and attention. If this Radicchio and Roasted Purple Potato Salad doesn’t change your mind, I don’t know what will.

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You Had Me At Aloe

New Year’s Day is the perfect opportunity to clean up your act and get a fresh start.

Diet culture be damned, there’s more to this concept than just what goes into our bodies. Fresh aloe is my secret weapon for happier, healthier skin and a glow that outshines the gloomiest winter days.

While lasting change starts from within, I strongly believe that aloe should be a topical ingredient only. There are proven benefits to drinking small amounts of pure aloe juice, but quite frankly, it tastes like straight poison to me. There is no amount of compelling research out there that would convince me I should drink the culinary equivalent of drain cleaner. Thus, when I found myself with a large leaf of fresh aloe on hand, I knew right away it was better suited for the bathroom than the kitchen.

Fresh Aloe Vera

What is aloe?

First things first, in case you’ve only seen the little bottles of goop in the cosmetics section, aloe is a succulent that is prized worldwide for its medicinal properties. There are well over 400 species of aloe with aloe vera being the most common. Dubbed the “Plant of Immortality” by ancient Egyptians, the first record of the plant comes from 6,000-year old carvings within the tombs of deceased pharaohs. Its modern name comes from the Arabic word “Alloeh”, which translates to “shining bitter substance”, and the Latin word “Vera”, which translates to “true”.

What are the benefits of aloe?

Aloe is the Swiss army knife of skin care. Whatever ails you, there’s a good chance that a gentle application of aloe vera gel will help.

  • Moisturizer – Particularly when you need an extra line of defense again dry winter winds, aloe gel helps lock in moisture without clogging pores.
  • Toner – Far more gentle than most natural astringents, aloe is a great option for those with sensitive skin that want to balance their skin’s PH level and prevent breakouts.
  • Burn salve – Proven effective in treating first- and second-degree burns, aloe gel has an immediate cooling and soothing affect.
  • Wound healing – Small cuts, rashes, and abrasions will disappear in record time with aloe on the case. It can help expedite the healing process by reducing inflammation, promoting circulation, and inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

Fresh Aloe Vera Gel

How can you use fresh aloe?

Bottled aloe gel has added preservatives to extend shelf life. Cut the crap and go straight to the source! Fresh aloe leaves are available in most grocery stores these days, particularly Whole Foods Markets and similar health food shops. It’s more cost-effective and easy to use.

To prepare your own aloe gel…

  1. Lay the paddle out flat on your cutting board and slice down the sides, removing the pointed spikes along the edges.
  2. Fillet the leaf, separating the top and bottom skin from the clear gel inside.
  3. Cut the gel into pieces and place them in your blender or food processor.
  4. Puree on high speed until completely smooth and very frothy.
  5. Transfer to to airtight containers and use as desired. The gel will last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or you can freeze it pretty much indefinitely, until needed.

To use, apply on clean skin as desired. It’s safe for use on the body, hands, and face alike.

Clean up your act along with your medicine cabinet.

Fresh aloe is a game-changer for healthier, happier skin.

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Making Spirits Bright

Amidst twinkling lights and fluttering tinsel, the sound of carols and jingle bells, the holiday spirit is alive again. The feeling is hard to describe, but impossible to deny when you have it. It’s the tendency towards generosity and kindness, of hope through the darkest of day, and joy for all the little things.

Whiskey Sour Candied Pecans

Want to help share the experience with those you love?

The easiest way is with a different sort of spirited gift.

Whiskey Sour Candied Pecans

Whiskey Sour Candied Pecans are an intoxicating treat inspired by the classic cocktail. Aromatic and heady, sweet and sour with a subtly bitter edge, buttery yet bright, the simple preparation belies the incredibly complex flavors that develop. This isn’t your average spiced party mix that can be munched mindlessly; each crisp toasted nut delivers a bold infusion of merriment.

Whiskey Sour Candied Pecans

In case your spirits are flagging, here’s a foolproof recipe to revive them. Scrooge himself would be powerless against such contagious wintry cheer.

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