Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Don't like Cranberries? Think again!

Every year for the past 6, I have gone to very dear friends' house for Thanksgiving.  I would travel up to Seattle from Texas and stay for the long weekend.  It was a trip I always looked forward to.  Their house was always the right amount of cozy and relaxing, mixed into a fun adventure.

Our Thanksgiving day tradition is an eclectic collection of friends and friends of friends that need a place to go on Thanksgiving.  It always makes for an unexpected day filled with great food from people's childhoods.  I am headed over there on Thursday - very thankful.

One of my favorite foods on the table is my hostess' take on cranberry sauce - except really good! It is more of a chutney (without the vinegar component) and yea it is great on turkey, blah, blah, blah, but most importantly it is good with EVERYTHING else!  My favorite is on the morning after Thanksgiving to have it on toast with a little butter and then slather on the cranberry chutney.  I have made it as a cheesecake topping.  I have had it on grilled cheese.  I would put it on a bison burger - just thought of that, yum! It would be delicious on vanilla ice cream.  I have mashed it down and strained it into vodka for a festive martini!  This stuff is GOOOOD!

Best of all it is SO simple to make. It is a combination of apricot and cranberry so it has sweetness and tartness but just enough of each.  The cardamon compliments both fruits and adds a lovely warmth to the chutney.  It is a snap to make and don't limit yourself to Thanksgiving - it is great all times of year!  It would also make great holiday gifts!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Sauce with Dried Apricots and Cardamom
8 whole green cardamom pods

1 3/4 cups canned apricot nectar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
1 6-ounce package dried apricots, quartered
1 12-ounce bag cranberries
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Coarsely crush cardamom in mortar with pestle or place in resealable plastic bag and crush with rolling pin; discard skins.

Bring next 5 ingredients and cardamom to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add apricots; cook 2 minutes. Add cranberries and cook until berries pop, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Mix in lemon peel. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lazy Lunchtime

Late Fall is one of my favorite times of year.  It is when you start to see and hear from friends you don't see very often throughout the year.  The air gets colder.  Sweater weather is in full force.  Food becomes all about comfort (when is it not?) and just like old friends, cookies, pastries, and spiked beverages abound!  My problem is that I start to not eat as healthily as I do the rest of the year.  I get lazy in my mealtime routine because I bake more, snack on what I bake, and celebrate the season more than I should.

Yesterday, I decided to make a concerted effort to be more mindful of my meal choices and portions of said meal.  I also am slightly overwhelmed by the bounty of different squashes and greens that have been arriving in my CSA box the last few weeks.  I looked at the Butternut Squash on my counter and the collard greens in my produce drawer and decided to make individual lasagnas!

This idea will work with a plethora of different food combinations.  One of the tricks I use, is to cook the ingredients ahead of time so when I add them together and bake them with the noodles and cheese, I am not having figure out how I am getting greens to cook at the same time and temperature as squash.

I bought fresh pasta sheets at the grocery store. These are really convenient because you can cut them to be whatever width or shape you like.  I used a 3" biscuit cutter and cut out circles - 5 circles per individual muffin tin.  I used a Jumbo muffin tin - they measure about 3.5" diameter.  You can use the regular size but for lunch size portions the Jumbo ones are just right.

I seeded the squash and then cut it in quarters and lightly oiled, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 40 - 45 minutes.  Cutting it in quarters speeds up the cooking time. While the squash is roasting, I washed the collard greens in my Tovolo Soak & Strain.  I then laid out the leaves on top of one another about 5 high, cut the stems off,  rolled them longways, and cut them about 1/2" thick. The technique is called chiffonade and not only does it make quick work of chopping greens and herbs, it makes beautiful ribbons of them.  I heated a pan with about 2 T of olive oil over medium heat and sauteed the greens with salt & pepper.  After about 4 or 5 minutes add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover for another 5 minutes. This steams the collards the rest of the way and helps to make the leaves more tender.

Now for assembly for 6 individual cups:
6 oz, of Ricotta cheese - I use part skim
4 oz. Basil pesto - I bought some at the store - I know, shameful!
1 egg
Mix the ricotta, pesto, and egg together in a bowl.

4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 winter squash, delicata, butternut, butterkin, cooked as above then diced 
1 bunch collard greens, cooked as above then diced

First lightly oil each cup with a little olive oil.  Then take one pasta circle and place it in the bottom of each cup.  You want the pasta circle to come up on the side a little, this helps hold it all together.  Add a dollop of the ricotta mixture onto the pasta circle and smush it down a little so it covers the circle.  Add a teaspoon of the collard greens.  Layer another pasta circle and a generous pinch of mozzarella followed by a few squash pieces.  Add another pasta circle and repeat. After the second layer of squash press the 5th pasta circle down lightly, add a little more ricotta mixture and a pinch of mozzarella - this will be the top.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the top gets bubbly.

Let them cool and then place them into a freezer bag in a single layer so that they don't stick together while they freeze and pop them into your freezer.  When you need a quick dinner, lunch for work, or even a great little side dish they are ready and waiting for you!  I heat mine in the microwave and they come out really well.  

You can use red sauce, ground meat, caprese style - you are only limited by your creativity!  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanksgiving Prep 101

Knife skills like a Ninja.  A kitchen the size of Martha's.  Renee Erikson as my best friend.  A vegetable garden like Michelle Obama's.  These are all things that would make prepping for Thanksgiving dinner easier - not to mention WAY more fun but in my reality it is just me and small group of friends (none of whom are Michelle, Martha, or Renee but I love them anyway) prepping an impressive amalgamation of all our favorite fall foods and Thanksgiving memories.

I have said it before, but a little preparedness goes a long way in the kitchen. Have a plan, know what you are making.

If I am cooking/baking several things, I get my ingredients out and put them in the dish or pan in which the item will be cooked. That way I am not running back and forth looking for things I KNOW I bought but can't find.  This is especially helpful for anything that needs to be constantly stirred or requires you to not be walking away from it as it is being prepared.  I also get out any prep mats, utensils, or prep bowls I might need for making that particular dish. 

At the end of the day it is about being organized but in my experience it really makes your day (days) of cooking quicker and more enjoyable. There is nothing worse than not having the right size pan or having to wash a bowl in the middle of trying to finish something else.

Having a solid plan also helps getting tasks done in a sequence so that the timing works out.  I think timing is probably the biggest stress of putting on a big dinner, any time of year.  By having a plan, you can prepare certain foods the week/weekend before. Make rolls and freeze the dough. Make a pie crust and keep it in your freezer or make cranberry chutney and have confidence that because you made it a few days early, the taste will be that much more complex and layered.  My other trick to staying sane, is to set up "stations" for people to help.  Everyone, always wants to "help" but for me, this adds to my stress.  I learned a few years ago to have extra cutting mats and knives ready to go.  You don't have to do all the peeling, chopping, or whipping yourself.  I set up a mat, a knife, and a small bowl per station.  The cutting mat and knife are obvious but the bowl is for scraps or peelings so that your helper can just dump the bowl into compost, trash, or the sink when they are finished without making multiple trips.  This is especially important in smaller spaces that could get a little crowded. :)  You have have someone open the wine, fix the cocktails, or set the table.  (Setting the table is great thing to do ahead of time if you have the space to do so.) 

The most important thing to remember is that the people that you spend Thanksgiving with love you or they wouldn't be there.  Perfection is overrated and some of the most delicious things I have ever made have been utter disasters of their original dish.  Go with it - make changes along the way.  Ask for help.  Accept help when offered. And if all else fails have an extra dessert - people will always eat dessert! 
Be thankful.

What's on my prep list:
Tovolo Soak n' Strain 
Tovolo Prep n' Drain - I can't stress enough how great this is!
Tovolo Flexible Cutting Mats - you cannot have too many of these
Tovolo 5" Serrated Utility Knife
Tovolo  5.5" Santoku Knife - workhorse
Tovolo Stainless Steel Measuring Cups and Spoons
Tovolo Stainless Steel Handled Spatula - how may do you have?  I use mine everyday!
Tovolo Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls
Tovolo Cocktail Shaker (this is really just for my benefit, no judgement)
Tovolo Tip Top Tongs - I use mine for reaching items on high shelves too. 
Tovolo Dough Whisk
Tovolo Stainless Steel Whisks
Tovolo Magnetic Tri-Peelers

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Molasses + Ginger = Earthy Happiness

My go to cookies tend to be chocolate chip or peanut butter but whenever I bake or eat a well made Ginger cookie I wonder why I don't make these all the time!  They are so earthy and comforting.  Ginger cookies are easy to make and I almost always have everything I need already in my pantry.

While making these cookies, my whole house smelled like being home at Christmas.  LOVE!

This particular recipe results in slightly cakey cookie - soft in the middle and a really nice texture around the edge.  I went crazy with my fine self and instead of rolling them in white sugar, I rolled them in cinnamon sugar!  What?  She cray cray! (Note to self - please edit out that last part.) 

Truthfully, I didn't taste the difference but I would do it again anyway. :)  These are just the right about of molasses, which I can eat by the spoonful, to make the flavor rich but not too sweet.  The chopped crystallized ginger elevates the taste and offers you a chewy, little surprise every few bites.

It is always nice to have a Spatulart buddy helping with the heavy lifting. :)

Love the Tovolo Stainless Steel Measuring Cups!

The recipe is a Food 52 recipe.  

Makes 24

  • 2 1/4cups all-purpose flour
  • 2teaspoons baking soda
  • 1teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2teaspoon salt
  • 1/4teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1large egg
  • 1/2cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/4cup finely diced candied ginger (optional) *Trader Joe's sells really nice candied ginger
  • Cinnamon sugar for rolling
  1. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, salt and cloves in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Beat butter and sugar together in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 minutes.
  3. Add egg and molasses. Mix to combine well. Stir in dry ingredients. Stir in candied ginger if using. Refrigerate batter 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll dough into 1 1/2" balls. Roll balls in granulated sugar. Arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and gently flatten. Bake in oven until set and crinkled on top, about 12 minutes. Remove and cool.