Pear & Pomegranate Winter Salad

Although the blogosphere doesn’t always advertise as such, winter is just as good for salads as the heat of summer. I do eat fewer entree salads in the winter (unless it’s a sautéed steak version) but we nearly always have a side salad with dinner. With different produce available it’s a great time to mix up the flavors a bit and give your standard toppings a break.

Pomegranate makes its debut in late fall, and is often used for everything from smoothies to desserts. With a tart flavor and saturated color, it’s also a perfect topping to brighten both the flavor and aesthetic of a winter salad. My favorite combination is with pears, but green apples, oranges or blood oranges, and Asian pears are all delightful pairings.

Pear & Pomegranate Salad {{Baking Bytes}}

For crunch and a dash of protein, sliced almonds or toasted pumpkin seeds are my favorite additions. They are both neutral enough to blend with nearly everything, and add just enough texture to each bite.

Goat cheese is my go-to for almost everything, but for a punchier flavor feta is a great choice. A crumbly cheese works best but the palate is very versatile if chevré isn’t your thing. For the dairy-free folks, this salad is also excellent sans cheese entirely.

Pear & Pomegranate Salad {{Baking Bytes}}

Lastly, a good quality balsamic vinegar is key here. I personally rarely use legitimate salad dressings and just dress mine with one of my large collection of Olivelle balsamic vinegars. Crisp Anjou Pear Balsamic Vinegar is my favorite for this particular salad, but a plain barrel-aged balsamic, anything with rosemary, or your favorite more neutral vinaigrette would also do nicely. I do recommend using a more viscous vinegar or a reduction to allow for a better coating.

Pear & Pomegranate Salad {{Baking Bytes}}

Brighten your dinner table with this healthy and delicious salad that’s easy enough for every day, and fancy enough for holiday parties.

Pear & Pomegranate Winter Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

5 oz baby spinach (or more, to taste)
1/4 cup Olivelle Crisp Anjou Pear Balsamic Vinegar1

1/2 medium pear, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds or sliced almonds
4oz goat cheese

Directions

  1. In a serving bowl, add spinach and vinegar and gently toss to coat.
  2. Reserving 1-2 tablespoons of each, add the pomegranate seeds and pumpkin seeds or almonds. Add half the goat cheese and gently toss to combine.
  3. Arrange the pear on top of the salad, then garnish with remaining pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds or almonds, and goat cheese. Drizzle with addition vinegar or a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, if desired.
  4. Enjoy promptly.

Notes

If preferred, you can substitute any dark balsamic vinegar or reduction, or your favorite rosemary vinaigrette. Barrel-aged vinegars are my favorite here!

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Pulled Venison (or Elk)

(Fair warning, this is somewhat of a novel-length post.)

In case you are overwhelmed with posts for cookies, fudge, egg nog, hot chocolate, and gingerbread houses, here’s a nice healthy entrée to get you through the season. Better yet, it’s made in the slow cooker so you can continue your holiday baking extravaganzas knowing there’ll be a savory dinner at the end of the day.

With M’s prolific hunting seasons, our freezers (yes, plural) are not often empty. Even in light years he harvests an ample amount to last the next year, and more often than not we are eating meat from a couple of seasons prior. Last to go are always the roasts. Although I do enjoy pot roast, it is something I tire of relatively quickly and as a result, the occasions M makes it for dinner are plenty for me. As a result, we typically have more deer and elk roasts on hand than I really know what to do with.

Pulled Venison {{Baking Bytes}}

Pulled pork is possibly one of my favorite meals, and I’m thrilled every time it shows up at a barbecue or on a menu. However, as many of you can probably guess, I never make it myself because we really don’t buy meat beyond bacon and the occasional sausage (although with this year’s experiments and an extremely fun class from Chef Nic of Grotto Meats, sausage will likely become our own too.) As such, when a potluck this summer had pulled elk as an option, I made a point to seek out the cook for some tips and tricks. Even better, he was more than willing to share his methods with me.

Having previously tried pulled elk once or twice, it just never quite got to the “pulling” stage as well I’d have liked it. Given how much less fat is in an elk or venison roast, I was pretty sure there was something extra required to get it to work. Potluck guy shared that he slow cooks it in “a lot of lime juice, and some water, but really a lot of lime juice” and that acidic component helps to break down the meat. He then pours out that liquid, shreds the meat, and carries on with a sauce as normal. With my mind officially blown, I set off to try my own version.

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I mixed “a lot of lime juice”, some apple cider vinegar, and water into the slow cooker and then added my roast. Slicing the roast into 2-3″ chunks gives it more surface area to cook, and I think results in a more even texture. After letting that go for eight or ten hours, I poured it out and added my own chipotle concoction. A short simmer later, and my Mexican-inspired pulled elk was delightful atop salad, tacos, or scrambled eggs.

While this method does require an extra step compared to your standard pork options, it is a wonderful way to use game meat and requires less than twenty minutes of active cooking time. Even better, you can easily double it and make more than one sauce (transfer one flavor to a saucepan to simmer together) giving you multiple options in the same amount of time.

pulled_deer3

As a side note: I also discovered that, for me, slow cooking during the day is too long because I’m often gone for 12 hours on weekdays, especially in the summer. Instead, I do the first cook overnight, let the sauce simmer while I’m getting ready for the day, and then store it in the fridge. That way it just needs to be heated for dinner since it’s all cooked and ready to enjoy.

This method works equally well with either venison or elk roasts, and as mentioned it’s easy to increase the amounts for extras. Either make multiple flavors (as shown from my pictures) or just shred one of them and store it in the freezer. Then you can simply pop the shredded meat into some sauce and you’re ready to go once it’s warmed through.

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This would be a great holiday dinner, either for the big day or for one of the days after when the excitement wears off and the exhaustion sets in and everyone is like “holy crap where did 2018 go?” I don’t know where it went, but I do know I can enjoy some tasty dinners while I try to figure it out.

Pulled Venison/Elk

Makes one 3-4lb roast1

Ingredients

3-4 lbs venison or elk roast
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice (or lemon, but I prefer lime)
1 – 1 1/2 cups water

Chipotle sauce (great for tacos!)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2-4 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo
2 cloves garlic
2-3 tsp chili powder
1-2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Apple cider sauce (great for winter salads!)
1 bottle hard apple cider
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne (for a little kick)

Directions

  1. Turn slow cooker to low and mix together vinegar, lime juice, and 1 cup of water.
  2. Slice roast (the short way) into 2-3″ wide chunks, and gently place into the liquid mixture.
  3. If necessary, add additional water. The meat does not need to be completely submerged but it should be mostly covered.
  4. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until it shreds easily.
  5. Remove meat from crock, and pour out the liquid. Be sure the outside of the crock is wiped clean then return it to the heating element.
  6. Shred the meat and put it back in the crock.
  7. Mix the sauce ingredients (use a blender for the chipotle sauce) and then stir into the meat. (Or use 8-12oz of your favorite sauce.) If it’s too thick, stir in additional water; mixture should be loose but not super watery.
  8. Continue to cook (can bump it to high if you are in a hurry) until the sauce is heated through and most of the liquid is heated through, at least 30 minutes.
  9. Meat is great for sandwiches, tacos, salads, toast, scrambled eggs, or just straight out of the pot. Freeze or refrigerate leftovers.

Notes

You can easily double the recipe to feed a crowd or put some in the freezer for later. Start with one recipe of liquid and twice the meat first as you may not need fully double the amount of the initial cooking liquids.

Thanksgiving Slaw

Coleslaw is something I’ve never enjoyed; it took me until my late twenties to realize I really just didn’t enjoy the mayo-based versions. Shredded cabbage or other veggies in a lighter dressing is just a salad that’s easier to eat, but in my opinion mayo is not intended to be the focal flavor of a dish. (Cue Midwest outcry.) If you disagree, that’s just fine, but I hope you’ll still give this non-mayo coleslaw a try.

Thanksgiving Slaw {{Baking Bytes}}

A few months ago when my mom visited, we took a cooking class from Olivelle. The one that happened to fit with our schedule was a paleo menu, and even though neither of us are paleo I figured the menu sounded great and Olivelle has yet to disappoint me, so we gave it a whirl. As it turned out, it was one of my favorite classes to date (I’ve done…several…) and I loved every single recipe on the menu.

One of those recipes was a Brussels sprouts slaw. I don’t usually care for cruciferous vegetables in their raw state, but somehow after being shredded with cabbage and toasted pecans, folded with blueberries, and lightly coated in a fruity balsamic dressing, I was in love. Not only is this one of the few class recipes I’ve gotten around to making on my own, but I’ve made it three times since August despite having to borrow a food processor eat time.

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Since it’s vegan, paleo, gluten-free and pretty much every-diet-ever friendly, this is a wonderful dish to take to potlucks and gatherings. Even better, it’s great chilled but just fine at room temperature, and best when made ahead, giving you all the time to relax and actually enjoy the party. It also makes a great lunch alongside your protein of choice if you’re fortunate enough to have leftovers. As a bonus, the green sprouts contrast nicely with the purple of the cabbage and the red pomegranate seeds, making it aesthetically pleasing in addition to its fantastic flavors.

I made a few tweaks for an autumn version, resulting in a perfect Thanksgiving side that doesn’t need oven space, and/or a healthy addition to Christmas that maybe even the kids will enjoy. (No guarantees, this recipe was not tested on children.) The Brussels and cabbage base remains, but I opted for walnuts since I prefer them over pecans, and pomegranate seeds for their color and tartness. I 100% cheated and bought a container of seeds, but if you want to get in your work out and seed a pomegranate then by all means, please do so.

Thanksgiving Slaw {{Baking Bytes}}

The dressing is a lovely mix of Olivelle products, so if you’ve not jumped on their bandwagon for some reason then now (or actually, Black Friday) is the time to make the leap. If you’re still not ready, a substitution of regular olive oil and white balsamic vinegar with some splashes of blood orange and pomegranate juices might work out, but I have not tested it. (If you go this route and you like the result, share your recipe in the comments!)

Thanksgiving Slaw {{Baking Bytes}}

If you’re in the market for a healthy but different addition to your holiday table, and cannot stomach the thought of putting yet another dish in the oven, this is the recipe for you.

Thanksgiving Slaw

Adapted from Olivelle
Serves 6

Ingredients

1 lbs Brussels sprouts
1/2 small head red cabbage
1 cup walnuts (or nut of choice)
1 cup pomegranate seeds

dressing
1/3 cup Olivelle Harvest Fig or Vanilla Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar(Or a mix of both!)
1/3 cup Olivelle Blood Orange Olive Oil1
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp Olivelle Vanilla Bean Sea Salt (or regular salt)

Directions

  1. Use a food processor (or a grater and a lot of patience) to shred the sprouts and cabbage. (If you’re a novice at food processing, this works best if you do it in relatively small batches.) Add both to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Coarsely chop walnuts (by hand, or with the food processor). Add to a dry pan and toast lightly over medium heat until fragrant. (Or skip this step if you’re lazy or in a hurry – it’ll still be good just a slightly different nuttiness flavor.)
  3. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until well mixed. Taste for flavor preferences, and adjust if necessary.
  4. Pour over the sprouts and cabbage and stir with a rubber scraper until well coated.
  5. Fold in toasted nuts and pomegranate seeds.
  6. Store in the fridge until ready to serve – overnight is better – then enjoy chilled or at room temperature. Will keep for at least five days in the fridge.

Notes

If you have not purchased the entire Olivelle store, a substitution of 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, and pomegranate + blood orange juice to taste might work. This is an untested substitution so let me know if you try it!

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread

In the onslaught of pumpkin recipes that is autumn, there always seems to be a vast majority of them leaning sweet. Excepting the occasional soup, pasta, or chili, nearly all recipes (and certainly most of the baked goods) play with the sweet side of pumpkin’s uses. While I love a sweet pumpkin bread as much as the next girl, I was intrigued with the idea of going savory.

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread {{Baking Bytes}}

Much like the other breads, a few tweaks to the standard recipe resulted in just what I was going for. Definitely savory and with a prominent beer flavor, this one has gentle notes of pumpkin and sage that work well on their own or will pair nicely with your favorite fall chili.

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread {{Baking Bytes}}

In addition to the subtle flavor change, the pumpkin adds a little moistness to the finished product. Lightly toasted, it works beautiful with butter or a spread, or to dip into soup. The savory beer flavor would be a lovely complement to a slightly sweeter squash soup, or make your chili extra hearty.

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread {{Baking Bytes}}

The pumpkin-ness of this bread will depend largely on your choice of beer rather than the amount of puree. I made this recipe twice with the same pumpkin beer and the results were only vaguely different. On the plus side, it makes it a great recipe to use up leftover pumpkin, but on the downside it means you need to choose your beer wisely. As someone that doesn’t actually consume beer in its beverage form, I don’t have a lot of experience in beer picking, but the particular beer I chose was not hugely pumpkin flavored on its own. Choosing one that that is heavier on the pumpkin aspect would likely result in a stronger flavor within the bread.

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread {{Baking Bytes}}

 

I opted to top my bread with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. This is largely for show (the pictures are way prettier, amirite?) but it also adds a nice crunch and gives some expectation as to what the bread flavor might be.

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread {{Baking Bytes}}

If, like me, you get burned out on the overwhelming amount of sweet pumpkin recipes, tone it down several notches and make a cozy loaf of bread.

Savory Pumpkin & Sage Beer Bread

Makes one standard loaf

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup white flour
2 Tbsp brown sugar1
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh sage, finely chopped

12 oz pumpkin beer
1/2 – 1 cup pumpkin puree1

Garnish, optional
1 Tbsp raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp dried sage
pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×5″ loaf pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining dry ingredients to remove lumps.
  3. Pour in beer and stir until just combined.
  4. Spread evenly into prepared pan. If desired, mix together seeds, oil, and sage until seeds are coated, and sprinkle on top of the batter.
  5. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until nicely browned and a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Perfect for toast or to accompany your favorite fall dinners.

Notes

There is not a great difference in flavor with this range, so just use whatever amount of pumpkin you need to use up. The larger amount results in a slightly more moist bread but that is the only noticeable difference.

If you do want a little sweeter bread, add up to 1/3 cup of brown sugar.

Guinness & Baileys Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

Brownies are one of the few things I almost never make from scratch. Costco sells 6-packs of Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix which is what I nearly always use. Super chocolately, even more super easy, and the perfect fudgy texture that I love. Honestly, most homemade brownies are not as consistently good as this mix.

However I have been known to doctor up the mix a bit, swirling in peanut butter or folding in additional mix-ins. Brownies are one of my go-to desserts for potlucks because we always have them on hand and they are always well received; the fact that they only require five minutes of active cooking time is also a huge bonus.

A few weeks ago I decided to try out a cheesecake swirl, blending up the standard cream cheese and sugar combination that is beloved by many. It was, expectedly, a huge hit. Given the upcoming holiday, this gave me the idea to blend in typical St. Patrick’s Day flavors as another option to add to my repertoire.

Admittedly, this makes the recipe a tad more time consuming as reducing the Guinness is not a quick process. Fortunately you can do this ahead of time and just store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. This makes the day-of process much quicker and allows you to do the reduction while you’re already minding something on the stove. It’s relatively low-maintenance so plopping it on a back burner while you make dinner would work just swell.

Despite having an entire bottle of Guinness, the change is subtle. Rather than smacking you in the face with beer, it simply enhances the chocolate and adds a nice robustness to the flavor profile. If you didn’t know it was in there, it might be challenging to put your finger on the mystery addition. It blends perfectly with the Baileys cream cheese for a supremely decadent but not extravagant dessert experience. And honestly, if you want to skip the Guinness part and just swirl in the Baileys cream cheese to regular ‘ole brownies, I would not judge you one bit. You could also skip the reduction step and just measure out standard beer, but I expect the flavor would be even less pronounced. (I also had the idea that Kahlúa in lieu of Guinness would be an excellent flavor pairing, and this may be my next brownie adventure.)

If you need an easy but delicious St. Paddy’s Day dessert, this could be the recipe for you. And if you’re looking for a crazier and more kapowy Guinness experience, then Irish Car Bomb Sundaes might be right up your alley.

Guinness & Baileys Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

Makes one 8×8 pan

Ingredients

1 bottle Guinness beer

1 box Ghirardelli brownie mix (I use Triple Chocolate)
1/3 cup vegetable oil¹
1 egg

8oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Baileys liqueur

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, simmer Guinness until reduced to 1/3 cup¹. Pour into a medium bowl and let cool about 10 minutes or until ready to use (this is a great step to do ahead of time while you’re cooking something else on the stove).
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a square pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  3. Add oil and egg and mix until well combined. Stir in brownie mix until just combined.
  4. Reserve about 1/2 cup of brownie mix, and spread remainder into prepared pan.
  5. In a small bowl and using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy.
  6. Beat in egg and sugar until well combined, then beat in Baileys until just combined.
  7. Spread evenly atop brownie mix.
  8. With reserved mix, add spoonfuls on to the cream cheese mixture, then use a table knife to swirl in a pattern.
  9. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until brownies are still slightly wiggly but not watery.
  10. Allow to cool in pan for at least 30 minutes, then lift parchment paper to remove and cool completely.
  11. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares, wiping knife between each cut for clean slices.

Notes

¹ Or however much water/oil your brownie specific mix calls for.