Turkish Hot Sauce

Crispy Sweet Potato Fries with Aioli

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To me, a burger isn’t complete without a side of sweet potato fries. And as much as I wish I could eat the fried version every week, I wanted a baked version that was just as tasty. Unfortunately, as I’m sure some of you have discovered, “crispy” and “baked” are not synonymous with sweet potato fries. Until now! The process may seem a little labor-intensive but I promise the end result will be worth it. And to pair with these crispy baked sweet potato fries, I make a simple aioli as a dipping sauce. The beauty of this aioli recipe is that it’s quite easy and can be altered with SO many additional ingredients if desired. Check out my aioli flavors below the recipe!

Sweet Potato Fries

Yields 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch
  • 2 tbsp. neutral oil (avocado, vegetable, or canola)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ tsp. paprika (optional)

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Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash the sweet potatoes and cut in long, thin sticks. Immediately submerge the fries in water and set aside for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, drain the water from the potatoes and spread evenly over paper towel to remove excess water. Place sweet potatoes in a bowl with cornstarch and toss vigorously until lightly and evenly coated. Add remaining ingredients and toss to evenly coat. Lightly brush two wire racks with oil or spray with cooking spray and place the fries evenly on the rack.  (I stacked the wire rack on cookie sheets to catch any falling fries.) IMG_3632Make sure to not overcrowd the rack. The more space each piece of sweet potato has, the less likely they will steam and create soft, soggy fries. Place trays in oven and cook for 20 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. You may need to rotate your trays halfway through the cook time if your oven bakes unevenly. Remove sweet potato fries carefully from the racks and enjoy with….

 

 

This aioli recipe is a great one to keep in your back pocket for meals that need a little something extra. Not to be confused with mayonnaise, an aioli makes for a great dipping sauce and pairs well with savory baked goods. This recipe is my go-to basic aioli (and it doesn’t require a blender — just needs a little elbow grease!). Once you’ve mastered this version, the flavor combinations are endless.

(Note: Real aioli contains raw egg and is not recommended for young children, pregnant women, elders, or those with weak immune systems.)

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Aioli

Yields 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg yolks (have any yolks hanging around after making my pumpkin pancakes??)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane or finely minced
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. water
  • 1 cup avocado oil
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne

IMG_3628Roll up a slightly damp kitchen towel, shape it into a circle, and place a medium mixing bowl in the center of the towel (this will keep the bowl in place as you  stir). Add the egg yolks, water, salt, and garlic to the bowl. Whisk constantly as you slowly drizzle in the avocado oil (this step may take up to 5 minutes. Hang in there. You can do it!!). When the sauce becomes thick and emulsified, whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Once you have that basic recipe down you can add all kinds of flavors. I made our aioli with toasted vadouvan, turmeric, and more cayenne!

Try these sometime:

  • Lemon
  • Smoked paprika
  • Madras curry
  • Ginger
  • Shmichi togarashi
  • Cabernet shallot
  • Turkish hot sauce (recipe to come!)
  • Moroccan
  • Harissa
  • Herb
  • Avocado-wasabi
  • Rosemary-garlic

… Just to name a few! Comment below with your own fun combinations for others to try.

“Gourmet” Weekday Dinner

Ok, bear with me… This one is a doozy, but I promise it’s worth it…

I may be a professional chef by day, but coming home after working all day in a kitchen to make dinner can feel quite daunting. Despite my lack of energy, I always strive to cook a fresh meal for my family. They are the reason I love cooking, after all. It doesn’t make sense to cook 4-star rated food to strangers only to come home and press 4:00 minutes on the microwave for my loved ones. So in an attempt to save a little energy at the end of the day and still provide a balanced, home cooked meal for my family, I’ve used a couple of tricks from my years as a catering chef and applied them to our weekly dining routine.

One of the most challenging things to master as a chef is timing. Catering chefs, for example, have to manage a menu for hundreds of people at one time. The food, in every single detail, has to ALL come out piping hot, not over- or under-cooked, AND taste delicious. How is this possible? One method: par-cooking. By partially cooking your food,  cooling it down, then bringing it back up to the proper temperature for consumption, you’re able to uphold the ultimate vision of the dish without comprising the tasty end result due to lack of time. Still with me? It’s actually quite simple. Here’s how I use this technique for my family.

Saturday was a beautiful day in California and we had a few pounds of chicken breast hanging out in the freezer, so we pulled out the grill. But instead of grilling enough chicken for just our Saturday dinner, I fully grilled enough for us that night, then lightly kissed the grill with the rest of the chicken for later in the week. I did the same for some vegetables. Now we could eat “Grilled Chicken with Summer Vegetables” on a Wednesday night when I was more interested in playing with my daughter than cooking. Hang in there… I promise all of this detail will be worth it. But first…here are a handful of tips for properly par-cooking food

Tips for properly par-cooking food:
  1. Invest in a good thermometer. And calibrate it regularly. (Comment below if you have questions on how to do this!)
  2. Lightly sear or grill your food only for a couple of seconds — just long enough to get those gorgeous grill marks.
  3. Cool your food properly. Hot food must be cooled to 70°F in 2 hours, then down to 41°F in an additional 4 hours. Example: If I grill chicken at 2:00P, I have until 4:00P to get the internal temperature to below 70°F (this is where that thermometer comes in handy!). I then have until 8:00P to get the internal temperature to below 41°F. All of this time and temperature monitoring might seem overwhelming but it ultimately means delicious leftovers without a nasty stomach ache!
    • Don’t put your hot food in the fridge to cool faster. The residual heat could potentially heat the inside of your fridge, which could cause other food in your fridge to get warm and spoil. Ew. And a waste of money.
  4. When ready to eat your food, properly heat it up again in the oven. Use these temperatures when cooking various types of food. (Make sure to temp the thickest part of the ingredient. Cooking multiple sizes? Start with the smallest item, remove it from the oven once fully cooked, then continue with the rest. This will eliminate any random overcooked food):
    1. Fish – 145°F
    2. Casseroles – 165°F
    3. Pork – 145°F
    4. Poultry – 165°F
    5. Beef (steaks)  – 145°F
    6. Ground meat – 165°F
  5. With all of that being said, don’t cook your protein until the thermometer reads that number above. Pull out the protein when the temperature reads about 10°F less than the goal. (e.g.: Take chicken out of the oven when the temperature reads 150-155°F). Why? Because all protein needs time to rest. Resting allows the juices to flow back into the entire piece of the protein cooked. And when you rest your protein, it will continue to cook. So…. If you pull out your chicken exactly at 165°F, and it rests for 10 minutes, then by the time you eat the chicken it will be overcooked.

Still with me? I promise it’s all worth it.

Ok, how about we do some actual cooking?

Here is the dish that inspired this post:

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Herb Grilled Chicken with Lemon Cauliflower Rice, Grilled Vegetables, and Hazelnut Romesco

Yields 4 portions

Ingredients:

Chicken
  • 3 chicken breasts ( I aim for 5 oz. serving portions per person)
  • ½ tsp. minced parsley
  • ½ tsp. minced oregano
  • 1 tsp. avocado oil (or oil of choice)
  • salt and pepper
  • zest of 1 lemon
Hazelnut Romesco
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus 1 tbsp.
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 roma tomato, roasted in 400°F oven for 10 minutes
  • ¼ bunch of parsley
Lemon Cauliflower Rice
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp. avocado oil
  • ¼ bunch of parsley, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot (or ¼ yellow onion) minced
  • zest of 1 lemon and its juice (want my recipe for preserved lemons to add to this dish instead? Comment below!)

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    Make preserved lemons for added pop of flavor all year!
Vegetables
  • Whatever you have in the fridge! Or find at the Farmer’s Market or grocery store! Go seasonal and it will be delish. Just season with oil, salt, and pepper. Then kiss the grill lightly, cool, then reheat in a 450°F oven for 10 min.

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Chicken

IMG_3610Start by marinating the chicken with the ingredients listed. This can be done 24 hours in advance. Lightly grill the top side of the chicken. Cool (as directed above). When ready to reheat, preheat oven to 450°F. I prefer a higher temperature to add more color to the chicken and to enable you to get the chicken in and out of the oven faster, which will prevent drying out the chicken breast. Cook for about 8-10 minutes (or until the temp is 155°F). Rest, serve, and eat! You can also throw it in the microwave for about 4-5 minutes too and cut the time even more!

Hazelnut Romesco

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat bell peppers with 1 tbsp. olive oil, place on a cookie sheet, and roast until skin is black (about 15-20 minutes). Rotate occasionally for an even char. Remove bell peppers from oven, place immediately in bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Cool until you’re able to touch. Once cooled, peel skin and remove the seeds. Place roasted bell pepper in blender with remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Lemon Cauliflower Rice

IMG_3611Cut core from cauliflower and place in food processor. Pulse until until cauliflower is the size of rice. Reserve until ready to sauté. In large saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add shallots and sauté for 30 seconds. Add garlic and saute for 10 seconds. Turn off the heat and add cauliflower, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and serve. If you’re not a fan of cauliflower, substitute with quinoa, brown rice, basmati rice, or pearl barley. Just make sure to alter the cook time accordingly. Comment below if you have questions!

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Thank you for hanging with me for this long one! I hope it helps those who wish they could have a home-cooked meal on those busy weekday nights.

Have any questions? Comment below!

Nectarine-Bourbon Chutney

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It’s getting to the end of stone fruit season, and one of the ways I like to savor summer’s delicious fruit is by making it into a sauce. I love having a variety of sauces and dips stored in my fridge — it makes for an easy addition to a “gourmet” weekday dinner. This easy sauce takes little time to prep but makes up for it when cooking. But it’s ohhh-so-worth the time. The longer and lower this sauce can cook, the more the flavors can meld and create a thick, pungent chutney.

Nectarine, Pink Peppercorn, and Bourbon Chutney

Yields 6 servings

Ingredients:

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Pink peppercorns are dried berries with a black pepper flavor!
  • 7 nectarines
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. shallots, minced
  • 1 tsp. ginger, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups bourbon
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. red chili flakes (or more if you like it spicy!)
  • 1 tsp. pink peppercorns
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • salt to taste

IMG_3614Cut nectarines in half, remove the seed, and cut into medium sized chunks. (I prefer a chutney with pieces of nectarine as opposed to a more pureed consistency.) In a large saucepan, add oil on medium-low heat. Sauté shallots, ginger, and garlic for 30 seconds. Add in nectarine chunks. Turn off heat while you add in the bourbon slowly. (Use caution adding alcohol to a hot pan.) Turn heat back on to medium-low and add remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir together, then turn heat to low. Stir occasionally for about an hour, or until the sauce turns into a thick chutney. Taste and season with salt to your liking.

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I enjoyed my chutney with a smoked pulled pork and kale-cabbage slaw sandwich! Want the recipe? Comment below!

Cinnamon Pecan Butter

When it comes to nut butters, the winner in our household is pecan butter. It has a more unique flavor than peanut butter, and is a little sweeter than almond butter. The thing is, we’ve never been able to find pure pecan butter in grocery stores. It always seems to be combined with other nuts, such as almond-pecan butter or pecan-walnut butter. So we started making this pecan butter from scratch years ago and it has become one of our pantry staples ever since. The optional flaxseed meal makes this spread even more nutritious. My wife enjoys it on sourdough toast every morning with her hot coffee.

Pecan Butter Ingredients

Cinnamon Pecan Butter

Yields 2 ½ cups

Ingredients:

  • 5 ½ cups whole, raw pecans
  • ¾ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup flaxseed meal (optional)
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Natural oils released during blending

Blend the pecans in a food processor until pureed, about 3-4 minutes. When buying pecans for butter, look for pecans that haven’t been on the “shelf” for too long. Bulk sections of supermarkets and farmer’s markets are great places to look for the freshest nuts. The fresher the pecan is, the more natural oils are released during blending, which makes for a creamier butter. Add cinnamon, sugar, salt, vanilla, and optional flaxseed meal. Blend on high until smooth and buttery in consistency, about 5-6 minutes.

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Watermelon Mint Lime Ice Pops

These seasonal ice pops are a refreshing treat on hot summer days, and they’re made with only four ingredients. There’s only so much ice cream you can eat to cool off, so we came up with this recipe for those times when only a cold, icy treat would do the trick. They come together in minutes. Since watermelon is in season, its natural sweetness eliminates any need for additional sugar. Feel free to add in a drizzle of honey if you like them sweeter.

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Watermelon Mint Lime Ice Pops

Yields six 3oz. ice pops

Ingredients:

  • ½ seedless mini watermelon, chopped
  • 1 whole lime, juiced
  • 10 medium-sized fresh mint leaves
  • ¼ cup blueberries

IMG_2537I picked up the fruit at our local grocery store and combined it with a few sprigs of fresh mint from our garden. We have to be vigilant about using some of the mint every week, or it will take over our garden since it grows so fast!

Chop the watermelon and place in blender. Add juiced lime and whole mint leaves. Blend on high until pureed, about 30 seconds. Taste and add honey if desired. Pour into ice pop molds. Drop in whole blueberries as desired. Alternatively, you could blend the blueberries into the juice if you prefer a smoother consistency.

Place ice pops in freezer for 5-6 hours, and enjoy!

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If you have any juice left over after filling your ice pop molds, pour into a cup with sparkling water to make a fizzy agua fresca. You can even add some tequila for a fun cocktail!

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The Beauregarde

I don’t know about you, but I was SUPER bummed to hear about the passing of Gene Wilder this week. My dad was a huge fan of his, so much of my childhood was spent either watching his movies or reciting his countless (genius) one-liners. And since I can only imagine my dad and Gene are having drinks together right now, I was inspired to create a drink in his honor: The Beauregarde.

Based on the movie that first introduced me to Wilder, my take on the classic Moscow Mule (my fav!) muddles fresh blueberries (remember that iconic Willy Wonka scene with Violet Beauregarde turning into a blueberry?) with mint, Meyer lemon juice, Pisco Porton (a Peruvian brandy), and finished with my homemade ginger beer. And to top it off, for Mr. “Candy Man” Willy Wonka: candied ginger.

The Beauregarde

Yields 1 cocktail

Ingredients:IMG_3530

  • ½ oz. Meyer lemon juice (tastes like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin)
  • 5-8 mint leaves
  • large handful of blueberries (about 30)
  • 2 oz. Pisco Porton
  • 6 oz. homemade ginger beer (or store bought)
  • 1 small piece candied ginger

Muddle blueberries, mint, and Meyer lemon juice (lemon or lime will work too) in a cocktail shaker. Add Pisco Porton to shaker with a few ice cubes. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with blueberries, mint, and candied ginger.

If you’re not a huge fan of vodka-based drinks, try Pisco Porton. It’s smooth enough to sip on its own and sweet enough to contrast the ginger beer.

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Cheers to you, Mr. Wilder.

Homemade Ginger Beer

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My fun drink of choice lately has been the Moscow Mule. They are way too delicious and go down way too easily. So, naturally, I had to learn how to make my own ginger beer. If only I could make my own vodka. Maybe my next culinary challenge… Just kidding. Well, maybe not… if I can get my hands on a distiller. But I digress…

Making ginger beer is surprisingly easy. The process does take a few weeks, but I assure you that the end result is well worth the wait.

Homemade Ginger Beer

Yields 2 ½ liters

Ingredients:

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Tip for peeling ginger: use the edge of a spoon to peel with thin outer skin with ease.
  • cups water, plus 2 liters
  • tsp. champagne yeast (I found mine on Amazon)
  • 3 lb. fresh ginger, finely grated
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, plus additional 4-5 cups
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ½ jalapeño, sliced
(Note: this recipe does produce an alcoholic ginger beer.)

Start by boiling and cooling 3 cups of water. This purifies the water, allowing the yeast to grow properly. To make your ginger beer “starter”, stir the yeast into the water until it dissolves. Stir in 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger, 1 tbsp. of the granulated sugar, the lemon and lime juice, and sliced jalapeño. Pour the liquid into a non-reactive (e.g., glass) container or jar and cover with a cloth towel. Place the starter in a warm spot in your house — this will help to keep the yeast active. However, make sure the spot is not too hot (yeast will die) or too cold (yeast will go to sleep and slow your process).

Each day for the next week, mix 1 tbsp. ginger and 1 tbsp. sugar into the starter until the sugar dissolves.

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*Plastic bottles are essential in order to ensure the pressure that builds up does not break the bottle!

After one week, strain the starter through cheesecloth into a large, pourable pitcher. While the starter is draining, slowly heat to a low boil 2 liters of water with 4 cups of sugar in a large pot, stirring until dissolved.  Once sugar is dissolved, turn off stove, and cool water.  Using a funnel, pour the strained ginger starter equally into 3 empty plastic* 1 liter bottles.

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Add the sugar-water evenly to each bottle already containing the starter. Test the sweetness of the liquid: it should be sweeter than juice. Don’t worry about adding too much sugar. Over the next couple of weeks as the ginger beer ages, the yeast will eat the sugar and convert it to CO2 and alcohol. Tightly close up the bottles and place back in that warm spot of your house. After two days, slowly open each bottle and release any pressure, close the bottles back up, and store. Continue this step every day for 2 weeks.

 

Final step: ENJOY! It’s finally time to open the bottles and sample your homemade ginger beer. Add any additional sugar or citrus juice if needed.

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If you’re looking to try a new ginger beer-based drink, check out the recipe for my Moscow Mule-inspired cocktail: The Beauregarde!

Fried Eggs

One of the first things I learned in culinary school was that the obnoxious tall white hats with the 100 pleats we wore represented the 100 different ways you can cook an egg. Toque_01b.jpg9f08a6c7-fb60-41f5-badf-e7197161d473Res200Something tells me that Marie-Antoine Carême (the father of French cuisine and reason the toque became the iconic piece of a chef’s uniform) would disagree, but it does make for an interesting fact to share with die-hard foodies. That being said, eggs are quite a big deal in the culinary world.

Another egg-citing thing they taught me in culinary school is that eggs are one of the toughest ingredients to “master”. With varying degrees of temperature, time, and finesse standing between you and that perfectly appetizing egg, it’s no wonder I had to spend weeks standing over a sauté pan with those yellow yolks staring up at me. Maybe they were right about those 100 egg recipes after all. But I’m happy to report that it’s actually not that difficult to cook an egg your favorite kind of egg. And my favorite way to eat them is sunny-side up.

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Golden runny yolk, unturned, and crispy underneath; a sunny-side up egg is great for breakfast, on a burger, over grilled asparagus, or on a salad. The yolk provides that luscious, velvety sauce without adding additional ingredients. (Thanks, American Heart Association, for taking the fear out of eating eggs!)

Fried Eggs

Yields one serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp. avocado oil (or your favorite oil)
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Add oil to non-stick saucepan on medium-high heat. When oil is almost smoking (try the oil test from my tomato compote recipe!), add the two eggs. Add salt and pepper to the top. Cook for 1 ½ minutes, or until edges are brown and whites are opaque. Want over-easy or over-hard eggs? Cook eggs on one side for 1 minute, then turn over and cook for additional 30 seconds for over-easy, additional minute for over-hard.

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Weekend Breakfast

Heirloom cherry tomatoes, red onion, eggs, and herbs

I have always been a strong advocate for the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” philosophy. Unfortunately I, like many others, don’t get the luxury of enjoying a gourmet breakfast during the week. Between early alarms, a three month old baby,  and attempting to make myself professionally presentable when I can barely open my eyes, my weekday breakfast typically consists of nothing more than oatmeal made in a matter of minutes that is washed down with as much coffee as digestively possible. That being said, when the weekend rolls around, breakfast becomes less of a means of fuel and more of an experience. I am my father’s daughter, after all: a devout “Sunday brunchist” whose area of worship was at the Sunday morning brunch buffet. Needless to say, we take breakfast seriously in my family. And to me, there is nothing better than eggs, fresh homemade sourdough, and seasonal roasted vegetables. Don’t get me wrong: I would never turn down pumpkin pancakes or croissant French toast with berry compote; but there really is nothing better than a few simple yet quality ingredients cooked in the comfort of my own kitchen as the sun comes up. (Yes, unfortunately I don’t sleep in on the weekends either. But at least there’s always coffee).

So here it is: my entrance into the blog stratosphere with my favorite “most important meal of the day.”

This recipe was created back when I was first dating my wife, and it has maintained its position at the top of the breakfast favorites list ever since. The beauty of this recipe lies in the crispy, sunny-side up eggs, homemade sourdough toast (recipe for sourdough starter and bread to come!!), and a chunky sauce made from roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, and herbs. What makes this seemingly simple dish so delicious is the use of those seasonal cherry tomatoes that pack a mighty punch of flavor when roasted.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Compote

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Yields 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • ½ pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
  • ¼ red onion
  • ½ sprig of rosemary
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 4 tbsp. avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

‘Tis the season for tomatoes, so be on the lookout for heirloom ones! (Thanks, Mom, for the homegrown tomatoes!) Otherwise, cherry tomatoes from your local store will be just as delicious. Roast the quartered cherry tomatoes for 15 minutes in a 375°F oven (or on the toast setting in a toaster oven), until slightly browned on edges. I prefer to roast the tomatoes as opposed to just sautéing them in a pan. Roasting preserves the composition of the tomatoes and dries them out just enough so that the tomatoes create more of a chunky compote instead of sauce. Plus the browned edges elevate the final flavor even more.

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While the tomatoes roast, julienne the red onion and mince your herbs.

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In a saucepan, heat your oil on high heat until almost smoking. (Tip: throw a droplet or two of water into the oil to test the heat. If the oil spits back at you, it’s ready!) Turn down the heat to medium-low and add your onions, herbs, a few small pinches of salt, and black pepper to the pan and sauté, stirring constantly to avoid burning.

IMG_3123 As you slowly cook your onions, the sugars will begin to caramelize. In order to avoid burning the onions and keep that delicious “fond” (the brown buildup on the bottom of the pan), add a few tablespoons of water to deglaze the pan as needed. Don’t rush this step. The slower the onions cook, the more natural sugars are released.  The process does take time but the end result will produce a sweeter, melt-in-your-mouth texture. When the onions are brown and soft (10 minutes), add the balsamic vinegar. Cook for 1 minute, then turn off the burner and set aside.

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Once the tomatoes are roasted and the onions are caramelized, add the tomatoes and their juices to the sauté pan of onions. Turn the burner on low and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. This last step will bring all of the components together and reduce the juices to create a thick, slightly syrupy consistency.

The compote is ready to serve! Our compote is served with fried eggs and homemade sourdough toast.

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