It sometimes takes going someplace vivid and exciting to get me out of a cooking slump.
It may be the touch of Winter’s cold hand that does it, but it feels like every recipe I look at is similar to one I did before. The stews that were so comforting a few months ago seem limiting and dull.
I yearn for the creativity that springs bounty of fresh vegetables brings. The verdant, saturated colors of produces, bursting open after a long winter nap. I can already see it in the farmer’s market.
Vivid green peapods, curling vines and herbs are beginning to creep in. They are almost here. My cooking creativity yawns with them, peeking one eye open then sleepily closing again. It waits for something to jolt it awake.
And last week’s trip to the Grand Canyon may have just done the trick.
It was enough for me to smell the change in the air. The scent of snow topped dusty rock against wood smoke. To hear the tales of the Native American’s for whom food was more than sustenance, but also medicine, culture and family.
The flavors are not new. They are as old as the people of the land and as familiar. Corn and chiles. Beans and honey. Slow cooked, time honored recipes. It is an art, coaxing food from such inhospitable places. Where life clings so tenaciously to every pore and crevice in a cruel dessert.
Harvesting even the most meager of natures boons to enhance and enrich nourishing stables.
Perhaps I was a bit romantic, drunk on the rich landscape and enamored with my latest cookbook acquisition, Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations by Luis Ellen Frank. But it is difficult to simply dismiss the excitement that stirs in the back of my brain. The urge to play with these simple flavors.
But it was not the book that brought me into my kitchen, not yet. I am still mulling it over. But rather, it was the though of a small part of my Grand Canyon breakfast.
Butter with pine nuts and honey.
It is an unexpectedly delectable combination. A little playful, a little sophisticated, and heavenly on toast. At the El Tovar dining room it was served with a delightful trio of pancakes, buckwheat, blue corn, and buttermilk; and topped with the most intensely colored prickly pear syrup.
It was a haunting combination and one I couldn’t wait to recreate at home. There was something about the piney, hinting at acrid taste of pine nuts that seems to melt into the hint of sourness in honey. Together they join into a deep undercurrent of indescribable flavor. The kind that makes you want to take just one more bite. Just to see if you can pin it down.
It is a voluptuous, decadent thing on whole wheat toast.
I didn’t have a recipe; I tinkered and tasted my way to exactly what I wanted. Toasting the pine nut intensifies their flavor, bringing their oils to the surface and helping to spread their flavor through the butter. Even so this definitely benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight.
And since it will last practically forever in the freezer it is easy to make up a big batch and sneak knifefuls for special… or even not so special breakfast.
Pine Nut Honey Butter
2 sticks butter, softened
1/4 – 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup mild honey
Grind or crush the pine nuts. The finer the pine nuts are ground the more oil they release and the better the flavor will be. Mix the honey and pine nuts into the softened butter until the butter is a light caramel color and thoroughly mixed.
Allow to stand over night in the refrigerator or freeze for up to a year.
Serve at room temperature for best flavor.