This is my first holiday season as a blogger, and I am adoring it already! There are countless amazing recipes and inspiring posts right now, all of them calling my name - enticing me to drop whatever it is that I am doing and skip into the kitchen to knead and sift, whisk and whip.
The flavors of this season always taste and smell of memories. They are spiced with crisp evenings, with fresh snow beginning to fall, of eggnog shared around a fire with friends laughing at jokes made a decade ago. This season is meant to be shared with the people you adore most in the world, with the loved ones you have gathered over the years - to tell them how thankful you are for them and for their unconditional love and friendship. Lets face it, the older we get, the more we appreciate that handful of people that have stuck around through thick and thin.
This Thanksgiving I am not only thankful for the people I have had in my life thus far, but also for this great online community of bloggers that have accepted me so kindly. I was invited to be a part of an online "friendsgiving", hosted by the lovely Renee of Will Frolic for Food, and I couldn't be more honored. There is a list of incredible blogs to check out, all posting a delicious Thanksgiving recipe over the next few days.
We all had the pleasure of using salt from J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, a seventh generation brother and sister team of salt makers based in West Virginia. You can tell that this salt is so carefully crafted with love and pride, it truly shines through in the flavor and texture of the product. I used this salt in every part of the recipe listed below, and it enhanced the flavors beautifully. You can check out their gorgeous video at the bottom of this post - it really shows how much love they put in to not only their product, but their lives.
I decided (with the help of my most favorite chef I know- thank you Patrick!) to highlight one of New Englands most treasured flavors - the apple. What is more quintessential New England Thanksgiving than apple pie? Nothing. Well, maybe cranberry sauce - but apple pie is the first thing on everyones mind when they think Thanksgiving, right? We thought that smoking this beautiful salt to add a little applewood flavor could really make for a New England twist. Turning it into an applewood smoked salted ice-cream would really turn that classic dessert into something different.
Phil and I ventured through a nearby apple orchard to collect any fallen apple tree limbs to start the fire for our smoking process. We had to buy the applewood chips for - but were able to get them from a local farm stand. The salt took on the flavor of the applewood beautifully, it tasted sweet and smoky, rich and earthy. Once added to slow simmering apple cider for carmel, in the cinnamon custard for the base, coated onto sweet and salted candied nuts and sprinkled on top of the creamy and cold ice-cream - it was a perfect. It tasted like apple pie in ice-cream form. It has the sweet pucker from the apple cider caramel, the warm cinnamon base and the smoky crunch from the salted candied nuts. A New England Thanksgiving classic, with a bit of a West Virginia twist. Serve it with some apple pie and now you're really in for a taste but treat!
I am really excited to say that I have the opportunity to give a little jar of this salt to one winner this week. I am also going to include a jar of apple cider caramel, and some candied nuts, too! Just enter in the rafflecopter box below and a winner will be announced next week.
Happy Thanksgiving, to all of my friends and loved ones - old and new - be safe, happy and healthy this holiday!
• Applewood Smoked Salt •
There are many different ways you can smoke things like salt - you can use a gas grill, an open fire pit, even a wok (whaaaat?!) We used the open fire-pit method because it was what we had available. Check out this site for some other options for smoking. Just, please…don't start a forest fire, an apartment fire, an electrical fire…be careful!
Place your applewood chips in a bowl with water. Allow to soak.
Start a small fire in your fire pit. Let the fire burn for a little while, creating nice embers and coals.
Meanwhile, prepare your salt. We used an actual smoking box (which isn't supposed to be turned upside down, the holes are there to let smoke out when you are using it in a grill that has a lid - but because we were using it in open air - for pictures, duh… - we MacGyver-ed it) - but turned it upside down so that the holes were facing downward. We placed a fine mesh screen in the lining of the top of the box so we could place the salt on the mesh. Once the top was closed, the smoke would hit the salt and get trapped inside the box, creating more smoke exposure to the salt.
Once your salt is ready for smoking, drain the applewood chips and pour them onto the fire's embers. There will be a lot of smoke - so you have to move fast. Next place your grate over the fire, and place the salt box on the grate. Add a few splashes of water to enhance more smoke, and watch the process happen!
Let your salt sit on top of the smoking applewood chips for about an hour, adding splashes of water every now and then to create more smoke.
Once the fire has died down, or you are sick of sitting out in the dark watching your salt smoke, remove the salt box (carefully! and using oven mitts!) and allow to cool. Also don't forget to put out your fire...
You now smell like fire, and have a cute little jar of applewood smoked salt for your culinary pleasures! You can also wrap this up real pretty and give it away as hostess gifts this holiday season - perfect!
• Apple Cider Caramel •
I had no idea you could boil down apple cider to a caramel consistency until that favorite chef told me…and he was right on (thanks Patrick!). He also told me to add some sweetened condensed milk to give it more of a caramel texture in the ice-cream, because the condensed milk won't freeze. It turned out so perfect - it was beyond easy, it tastes like a caramel apple, and it swirled perfectly into the ice-cream. Who'da thunk?! Give it a try…you might not go back to plain ol' caramel any time soon. Plus it makes the perfect homemade Christmas gift!
• One half gallon of apple cider - local if you can find it
• pinch of smoked salt (I used my J.Q. Dickinson salt, of course!)
• 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, bring your apple cider and salt to a simmer over medium high heat.
Reduce heat to medium low and allow cider to simmer gently for hours until it reduces down to a thick syrup that will coat the back of your spoon. This took me about 2 hours.
Once reduced to syrup, whisk in your sweetened condensed milk a little at a time. You can always add more sweetened condensed milk if you would like your caramel lighter in color, or sweeter in taste.
Remove caramel from heat and pour into a heat proof jar or cup and refrigerate.
• Cinnamon Ice Cream •
makes 4 cups
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 6 egg yolks (set egg whites aside for the candied nuts - if you aren't going to make the candied nuts right away, you can store the egg whites in your refrigerator for two days)
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked salt (I used my J.Q. Dickinson salt)
Add the milk, cream, and vanilla to a saucepan on medium heat. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.
Vigorously whisk the yolks, sugar, spices and salt together in a bowl. When the cream is just starting to simmer (don't boil it), slowly pour some of the liquid into the yolks while whisking.
Pour the egg and sugar mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Stir in a figure 8 motion with a wood spoon or rubber spatula for several minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool for several minutes, stirring periodically. Cover with plastic wrap that’s pressed directly against the liquid to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until very cold, preferably overnight.
Prepare ice cream according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Once the ice cream has been churned, and it is "soft-serve" consistency, swirl in the warmed cider caramel. Freeze ice cream over night, or until firm.
• Candied Nuts •
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon smoked salt
• 1 egg white
• 1 tablespoon water
• 1 pound nuts (I used a mix of walnuts and hazelnuts just because that is all I had on hand - but you can do any kind of nut you would like!)
Preheat oven to 250F
Combine the sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
Whisk together the egg white and water until slightly frothy. Toss the nuts to coat in egg white mixture. Pour the sugar mixture into the nuts and egg white bowl and stir to coat the nuts in sugar.
Transfer the sugar coated nuts onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, about one hour, stirring occasionally to brown nuts on all sides.
Let cool on baking sheet, then transfer to jars or tins - tie a ribbon and a "with love" note - and you have a perfect homemade Christmas gift!
listening to: Sleigh Ride by Johnny Mathis