Friday, July 22, 2011

The Elixir of Life

A true silver lining!
Don’t you love road trips? 

Getting away from home gives a bright new perspective on where our lives are headed.  And they open us to surprising new sensory adventures.

If you read my blogs regularly you know I’m a sucker for silver linings.  Luckily my camera was close by as we drove into Sedona, Arizona, only seven hours driving time from home, where I captured a silver lining for real. 

The cathedral-like buttes shimmer like fire in the setting sun.
The surrounding red rock country seems familiar to visitors because the scenery has starred in so many Westerns from the 40s and 50s, and in current SUV commercials.  The cathedral like formations truly seem to catch fire in the late afternoon sun.
Cactus near our room at Poco Diablo
Ted and I checked into a patio room on the golf course at Poco Diablo Resort, where we had some unusual visitors.  [See video]

Our reason for travel was to spend time with Rama Vernon (who I will write about in another blog).  Rama surprised us by suggesting we visit a great Sedona restaurant Cucina Rustica, where she might be able to arrange for us to meet the chef.   Little did we know we would be in for one of the great restaurant experiences of our lives. 

I had just finished reading about Lisa Dahl’s cookbook in a magazine in our room.  The title, The Elixir of Life, captured my imagination—it just sounded like a celebration.  I loved this woman’s passion and imagination!  I’d even tried to order the book online, her own website said it would be not be available until august. 

Lisa Dahl
That evening, every taste in our dinner was a grand surprise.  Some people just have more taste buds than others and when they cook their food is over the top delicious.  We began with a bowl of Korean peppers that are mild and tangy and unique.  I’d never heard of Shishito peppers before. She served them lightly blistered and salted.  Divine!

For our second first course we shared Radicchio rolled with Croatian fig marmalade and mozzarella cheese wrapped in proscuitto and "grilled to perfection" then drizzled with a balsamic glaze.  Out of this world!

The restaurant had copies of the cookbook and it has become one of my top five favorites, sparking a whole new passion for cooking at home.  I’ve made no less than 12 recipes and have learned a technique or a flavor tip in every one of them.  

Ribollita (vegetable soup)
The soups are spectacular and since each recipe makes about three quarts, my freezer is stocked for easy suppers.   I made the Spicy Guadalajara Soup with Avocado and the Cream of Celery and Leek, and almost all of her salad dressings.

Ted is quite addicted to the spicy pecans pictured here with a great Exotica Salad with Shallot-Dijon Elixir.


For 2 cups

Lisa says “Try making these with your favorite flavor combinations:  Bourbon and walnuts?  Kahlua and pecans? . . ."

2 cups pecans, or other nut halves
3 tablespoons Amaretto or Grand Marnier liqueur
½ teaspoon (I used ¼) cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup sugar
Bake the nuts at 350 degrees for 5 minutes for extra crunch.  Allow to cool and place them near the stove.

Combine the liqueur, cayenne and salt in a small bowl and stir to dissolve.  Place the bowl near the stove.

Melt the sugar in a large non-stick skillet, shaking it to distribute the sugar evenly.  Careful not to burn around the edges.  The sugar will liquefy quickly—be ready!  When the sugar has just liquefied, pour in the liqueur mixture and stir.  The liquid will cause the melted sugar to sizzle, foam, and seize up a bit.  

Let it calm down for a moment and become almost liquefied again, then toss in the nuts.

Quickly turn the turns to coat them all over, then slide them out of the skillet onto a piece of parchment paper [separating quickly with 2 forks].  When they are cool enough to handle, separate the clumps into individual nuts.

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE:  Glazed nuts keep well for a few days in a sealed jar at room temperature, "unless you munch them all up while bustling around the kitchen."

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