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Friday, November 26, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Tropical Cranberry Sauce

I hope you all have had a happy Thanksgiving day. At its best, Thanksgiving is naturally a time for reflection. It is a day to catalogue blessings instead of complaints. For me, it is a day to consider being thankful even for the difficult things that have propelled me on my journey.

I'm so grateful for my family. We've had our superlative daughter home for the weekend. She is my foodie soul mate. Because she lives in Berkeley, the birthplace of the locavore movement, she often is in a position to educate me about food. She's a fantastic cook and makes everything from scratch, including her own bread and yogurt.

I'm grateful that many members of my family have lived a very long time. Because of this, we often have a blend of traditions from the different branches and different generations. I think it is interesting that many of the food traditions of my mom and prior generations include more packaged and processed foods than what is now customary for my daughter. Because of our multiple generations and family lines, we'll have a total of three Thanksgiving meals with a variety of homemade and factory assisted foods. The meal you see above was Thanksgiving part one, prepared on Wednesday for our own family at home. We had roasted turkey, a cheesy sweet potato casserole, stuffing, peas and homemade cranberry sauce. Thanksgiving part two included my father-in-law's birthday. There we had roasted ham, special ham gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, sauteed candied carrots, onions and green beans, rolls and some leftover turkey and cranberry sauce. We also had my father-in-law's favorite dessert - Bob the Butler's Mile High Boston Creme Pie. (I'll share this in another post. It is extreme!) Thanksgiving part three is at my folk's house today. We're likely having a frozen lasagna and a bag of salad. By T-3, we're all pretty tired and I want to make it as easy as possible. I have to be careful that my mom doesn't fuss and over do it.

For our at-home meal, two items were made the easy-cheater way: frozen peas and Stove Top Stuffing. I know. It's a guilty pleasure. I mix one box of turkey flavor and one of cornbread and it tastes like my childhood holiday meals. I can remember my grandma even making the mashed potatoes from a box of potato buds. My grandma's generation was on the cutting edge of food as science, and my mom came of age in the space age. As my daughter and I venture forth into eating that is healthy for our bodies and the planet, we are doing some reclaiming of tradition, but we are more often boldly going where our foremothers never went before. We are creating new traditions.

One of our new traditions is this scrumptious cranberry sauce. It is adapted from this recipe from I've made it my own by using a dried tropical fruit mix and handling some of the ingredients a little differently. Tropical fruits are one of the main reasons why I can never be a purist about eating locally. I can't go without tropical products like pineapple and mango, not to mention staples like coffee and vanilla.

I obtained some litmus test strips so that I can test the acidity of some of my favorite recipes for water bath canning. This recipe is plenty acidic and it would make a great holiday gift. I've not canned it before because we eat it up so fast. I have stored it in jars, so I know that this recipe makes two pints. If you wish to can it, use the USDA safe canning methods and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Here's to your traditions, old and new. Enjoy.

Tropical Cranberry Sauce
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 12 oz. package fresh cranberries
1 orange
2 apples (one sweet and one tart)
1 7 oz. package mixed dried tropical fruit
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg.

Zest the orange and use one teaspoon for the sauce. Peel and chop the orange and apples so that the pieces are about the same size as the cranberries. Cut up the dried fruit to that size as well. Mix everything in a heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve as a relish, sandwich topping or dessert filling. Makes 2 pints.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Pondering Poultry, Roasting Roots

One of my favorite things about Fall and Winter is getting to use the oven after a summer of abstinence. Roast dinners are so easy and so delicious. All you have to do is become acquainted with your oven and its idiosyncrasies. My oven has a convection roast setting that works wonderfully for external browning and internal tenderness.

Here you see yesterday's dinner - roasted chicken pieces and roasted root vegetables. I really like starting out with a whole chicken. I know many people who only eat boneless, skinless breast meat. I know those breasts are great for lean protein, but you get so much more out of a whole chicken. Breaking down a chicken is easy, if you know how and your knives are sharp. One of these days I'll get one of my photographer friends over to help me document this process.

For this dinner, I cut up the whole chicken and used the breasts, thighs and legs for roasting. I reserved the neck, back and wings for stock. While I get points for cutting up my own chicken, I lose points for being lazy and buying commercial salad dressing. Salad dressing is just about the easiest way to add lots of flavor to chicken. I used Trader Joe's Romano Caesar Dressing. It's perfect for chicken - garlicky and not too acidic. I just marinated the prepared chicken pieces in the fridge for a couple of hours. You could let it marinate over night as well.

When roasting root vegetables and chicken pieces for the same meal, I find that the veggies need a bit of a head start. I used part of my haul from the farmer's market this weekend - carrots, golden beets and turnips. Just wash and trim. No need to remove the skins. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and they are ready to go. We also enjoyed a big bunch of greens from the beet and turnip tops earlier this week.

While dinner was roasting, I started the stock pot. There is another delicious soup in my future!

Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables
5 small turnips
5 small golden beets
2 large carrots
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the vegetables:
Trim, wash and dry the vegetables. Reserve greens for another use. Cut larger vegetables in half or into large chunks so that they are all the same size as your smallest root. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in an oiled covered casserole. Roast, covered, in the preheated oven for 15 minutes before placing the chicken in the oven.

For the chicken:
One whole chicken, cut up (reserve back, neck and wings for stock)
3/4 cup Trader Joe's Romano Caesar Dressing

Marinate chicken pieces two hours or overnight. When ready to roast, remove from marinade and place, skin side up, in an oiled glass 9 X 13 inch pan. Dip the pieces in the marinade as they are removed so that they are completely coated. Once the veggies have had their 15 minutes, place the chicken in the oven, uncovered and roast for 40 minutes. This is where knowing your oven comes in. Stir the veggies once or twice during the roasting, always replacing the cover afterward. If the chicken browns unevenly, you may need to rotate the pan once during the cooking time.

Bonus Recipe - Chicken Stock
Neck, back and wings of one chicken
2 large carrots
3 stalks celery
1 large or two small onions
2 cloves garlic
sprigs of fresh parsley, sage and thyme
8 peppercorns

Brown the chicken in the stock pot while preparing the vegetables. Add all the vegetables and herbs and pepper. Add enough water to cover. In my pot, I used 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer at least 2 hours. Strain and refrigerate for future use.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Paradise Jelly

When I was a teenager, our family lived on property that had once been a bustling gold-rush era town. One of the legacies of the local history is fruit. My folks still get pears and plums from the old trees. Until very recently, we got persimmons and figs. Over 20 years ago, there were quince bushes. I think most quince we see at the farmer's market comes from large trees and the bushes are usually ornamental. They do have gorgeous melon-pink flowers. We discovered, like everyone else, that quinces cannot be eaten raw. They are just too astringent. My mom made them into a lovely jam. There is a special, fragrant, something extra about quinces. I've been wanting to work with them ever since I started canning last winter.

I first read about Paradise Jelly at Put Up or Shut Up. (Take a look at that vivid pink-red color she got!) After doing some research, I found that it is a traditional jelly made with quince, apple and cranberries. I saw different proportions of fruit in different recipes, but almost all of them required 3/4 cup of sugar per one cup of strained juice. I decided to use just about all the fruit I'd purchased to make the juice and go from there.

I purchased 10 lbs. of quince, 6 lbs. of apples (granny smith) and two bags of fresh cranberries. I prepared the quinces separately from the apples and cranberries, mostly because I didn't have a pot big enough for them all. The quinces must cook significantly longer than the other fruits as well. To prepare the quinces, scoop out the blossom end with a corer or melon baller, then roughly chop. Do not remove seeds or core. Place in a large stock pot and fill with water to top the fruit. I used 16 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of hours - until the fruit is soft and has taken on a pink hue. Leave the lid ajar so that some of the liquid can evaporate while simmering. Drain through cheese cloth.
Next, roughly cut the apples. Do not remove the seeds or cores. Place in a large stock pot. Add the cranberries and add water. I used 12 cups of water. I did have some unexpected results when cooking the apples an cranberries. Somehow the apples expanded while cooking and floated dramatically to the top, forcing the lid off and the cranberries out like so many ruby colored marbles. There are no pictures of this as I was running around trying to rescue everything. Once the simmering settled down, the apples and cranberries cooked down nicely in about 30 minutes. Strain the apples and cranberries through cheesecloth.
The juice was still quite cloudy after having been strained through cheese cloth, so I decided to strain the combined juices through scalded muslin. This took some patience, but produced a crystal clear jelly. With the fruit and water that I had, I ended up with 18 cups of juice, plus a little extra. I processed the jelly in 6 cup increments. This is my first jelly without using commercial pectin. I used a combination of digital thermometer and the frozen saucer test to insure a set. You will have to guage your thermometer through experience. Technically 222 degrees is the jelling point, but per my thermometer, 223 is about right. This jelly bears careful watching as quinces and apples are both high in pectin and the set point will come and go quickly. Also, watch your pot so it doesn't foam over.

I'm very pleased with the result. Won't this make a beautiful holiday gift?
Paradise Jelly
6 cups quince, apple, cranberry juice (see instructions above)
4 1/2 cups sugar

Prepare jars, lids and boiling water bath. Place the juice and sugar in a large pan and bring to a boil. Set up thermometer to monitor temperature. Place a few saucers in your freezer for testing the set. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until thermometer reaches 222 or 223. Test the jelly by scooping out a small amount and dropping it on the frozen saucer. Once cool, the jelly should wrinkle slightly when pushed with your finger.
Remove from heat and scim off any foam. Carefully ladle jelly into prepared jars, wipe rims and top with lid and ring. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes for half pints. Carefully remove and allow to stand over night before labeling. Makes 5 half pints.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some Mistakes are Tastier than Others

I've been having a lot of fun making pizza. Ever since my success with the Butternut Squash Pizza, I've been experimenting and creating new pizza topping combinations. One of my husband's favorites is Trader Joe's chicken sweet Italian sausage, sauteed with mushrooms and onions with sliced sun dried tomatoes added just before the cheese.
This is a great pizza.
I planned to make pizza today and put the dough together around noon. I cooked up the toppings in two different pans. One was the chicken sweet Italian sausage with onions and mushrooms. In the other pan, I sauteed cubed butternut squash, onions and sage leaves to duplicate the butternut squash pizzas I made before. Two deliciously different pizzas were to be on the menu tonight.
Alas, when I went to collect my dough I found that it was not alive. I always proof yeast, but today I was impatient. I thought, "Oh, it will be fine." and dumped it in without waiting for it to show signs of life. The resulting lump was smooth and glossy, but was neither pizza dough nor pasta dough. Sigh. It was a loss.
I called Mr. Dwayne into the kitchen and explained the options.
"We could cook up some pasta."
"We could go to Trader Joe's and get some pizza dough in a bag."
"We could get a Boboli crust."
He chose the pasta (quickest) option.
"Do you want it tossed with spaghetti or baked with a shapey pasta with cheese on top?"
Again, he chose the quickest option - Spaghetti.
So, I cooked the pasta and my two pizza toppings became one pasta sauce. This is a happy-making dish. I interrupted Mr. Dwayne's football viewing with any number of yummy noises. I think if I had intended to make this as a pasta sauce, I would have cooked everything together, but I really enjoyed that the squash remained sweet and infused with sage as opposed to soaking up all the sausage flavor, as the mushrooms did. When I make this sauce in the future, I will make the sauce components in two separate pans again.
Chicken Sausage and Butternut Squash Spaghetti
1 lb. Trader Joe's Chicken Sweet Italian Sausage
1 8 oz. package of sliced mushrooms
1 onion, sliced, divided use
4 cups cubed butternut squash
2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage leaves
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided use
1 lb. spaghetti
grated Parmesan cheese to top
Heat two saute pans. Divide the olive oil, placing 1 tbsp. in the pan that will cook the sausages and 3 tbsp. in the pan that will cook the squash. Add one half of the sliced onion to each pan. Remove the casing from the sausage and crumble it into the pan with less oil. Allow to brown a little before adding the mushrooms. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid. Let the sausage and mushroom mixture cook down until the moisture evaporates. Drain any excess oil. Set aside.
Add the butternut squash and sage to the second pan. Saute over a medium heat until the squash is soft. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Be sure to add a good tablespoon of salt to the pasta water. Drain the pasta.
Toss the hot pasta, the sausage mixture and the squash mixture together. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
This makes about 12 cups at 275 calories per cup. Cheese is extra.
PS. Trader Joe's chicken sweet Italian sausage also makes a fabulous addition to soup. I hate to make a soup this delicious a PS. but I thought it related because of the sausage and squash combo. This soup has the sausage, onions, carrots, celery, butternut squash, red potatoes and Swiss chard. All were sauteed with olive oil and simmered in chicken stock. Yum!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Giant Oven Pancake

Good morning! Today I'm sharing another egg-centric dish. Like last week's recipe, this one is from Sunset's Easy Basics for Good Cooking. They call it a Giant Oven Pancake, but I've also heard this called a Dutch Baby. By any name it is delicious and dramatic. This is perfect brunch fair for when you want to present something that looks impressive but is actually quite simple to make. The photo you see above is Sunset's recipe cut in half and baked in a 9 inch enameled cast iron pan. This amount is perfect for two. It can be served very simply with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon, or with maple syrup. My favorite way to serve it is with apple slices that have been a sauteed in a little butter with maple syrup.

Giant Oven Pancake for Two
2 tbsp. butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk + a few drops of vanilla
1/2 cup flour + dash of salt
(salt and vanilla are my additions)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 9 inch skillet or 9 inch glass pie plate in the oven with the butter.
While the butter is melting and the oven is coming up to temp, place the eggs in a blender or food processor and whirl for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly pour in the milk, then slowing add in the flour. Continue to whirl for another 30 seconds.
When the butter is melted, pour the prepared batter into the buttered pan. Do not stir. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the pancake is puffy and golden. Serve immediately.
11/14/10 - I probably should have mentioned that if you have a convection oven, turn the convection action off for any dish that needs a significant rise. The hot wind will dry out the outer crust too soon and prevent the dish from puffing up as shown.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Egg Custard

Eggs. Butter. Bacon. Cream for coffee. You could say breakfast is one of the main reasons I will never be a vegan. My near ancestors were farmers. They raised dairy cattle, hogs, beans and fruit. This is spread across both sides of my ancestral lines. I live in the house that my maternal great grandparents moved into when they grew too old to manage their farm in Tracy. The comfort foods I grew up with often came from their generation.

This dish could not be simpler or more delicious. I renewed my acquaintance with this creamy egg dessert through Sunset's Easy Basics for Good Cooking. Like any basic recipe, it is ripe for invention. That being said, I really like the simple elegance of freshly grated nutmeg. Nutmeg is so fragrant and unique, yet somehow this strong flavor perfectly compliments the gentle flavors of milk and eggs.

Egg Custard

2 cups milk (I used a blend of skim milk and half & half because that's what I had around.)

1/4 cup sugar

3 whole eggs or 6 egg yolks (I used whole eggs.)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Fresh nutmeg to grate on top

My methodology differs slightly from the Sunset method. They advise to scald the milk then stir in the sugar to dissolve. I whisked my eggs and sugar together while the milk was heating. Some tiny bubbles formed on the surface of mine, but I don't mind that. (Am I the only person in the world who likes pudding skin?) I also did not strain my custard because the little twirly bits of egg white don't bother me. If you are making this for a dinner party, or squeamish children, you might want to strain it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start heating a kettle of water.

Paraphrased from Sunset - In a medium sauce pan, scald the milk. That means heat it until little bubbles start to show up around the edges and the milk is heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the eggs then stir in the vanilla.

Place ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour the custard into the ramekins. Top with freshly grated nutmeg. Place the pan with the ramekins into the preheated oven and pour the hot water into the bake pan so that the water comes up to about 1 inch. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Custard should remain jiggly in the center. Remove from oven and remove the ramekins from the hot water and allow to cool.

I like this both warm and cold. According to Sunset, this makes six servings. You gotta be kidding me. Two. Tops.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vegetable Pancakes ala Mark Bittman

Vegetable pancakes. (Mmmmm. Just a little swoony here.)

Mark Bittman practically guaranteed that this tasty recipe will win over even the most staunch veggie hater, and after tasting them, I'm sure he's right. I bought some beautiful cauliflower at he farmer's market this weekend. I almost bought two. Dwayne cautioned me that I would be the only one eating it. For a few days, I've been contemplating the plating of this cauliflower for Dwayne's enjoyment. I know it can be meltingly delicious. Should I roast it? Mash it? Souffle it? Then I saw this recipe and knew I had hit upon the answer.
Here's the veggie selection: cauliflower, zucchini, carrot, shallot and garlic. I grated them all and mixed them with 1/2 tsp. salt and let them stand and drain for a bit.

I used the cheesecloth to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

I squeezed out about 1/4 cup of liquid. I'm sure this would be a tasty addition to any soup stock.
Vegetable Pancakes
3 cups grated vegetables, salted and drained
1 egg
1/4 cup of flour
Oil for frying
Mix all the veggies, the egg and flour together. Adjust seasoning. I used a 4 oz. disher to drop the pancakes into the hot oil. This made six 4 oz. pancakes at about 120 calories each.
And, yes, Dwayne liked them very much.