November 18th, 2011 § § permalink
I feel sorry for the cranberry. Each holiday season it slides out of its tin can with a gelatinous plop. Just when it thinks, “I’m free to do something amazing culinarily,” someone grabs a spoon and turns it into a jellied, crimson mush. If it’s lucky, it might show up later in a wizened, albeit more true-to-life form in muffins, scones, or salads. When it’s unlucky, it appears in my breakfast juice glass. That seems to be all that we can come up with for this amazing fruit.
Long before it was known as a cranberry, this Vitamin C-rich berry was called a cowberry. As you might have guessed from the name, cows adore it. Thinking that the fruit’s pink blossom resembled the head and bill of a crane, Pilgrims later named it a craneberry. Because it bounces when ripe, it’s also referred to as a bounceberry.
The hardy offspring of low, scrubby plants, the cranberry can be found in some of Northern Europe’s and America’s poorest, most acidic soils. You’ll see it growing wild in bogs and on mountainsides and moors.
Along with thriving in lousy conditions the cranberry can survive a long time off the vine. Its durability comes from its deep red, waxy skin, which contains benzoic acid, a natural preservative that keeps it fresh for months after picking. Because of its sturdiness, sea-going sailors and whalers used to take along the tart berry to prevent scurvy. Fresh cranberries will keep for over two months in my refrigerator or a year in my freezer.
Native Americans taught early American settlers to eat fresh and dried cranberries. They used them in preserved meats and made them into sauces. Perhaps this is why I associate the fruit with Thanksgiving and as the dressing for my roast turkey.
Although we most often see cranberries either dried, as a juice, or in a can, they are phenomenal when featured fresh in chutneys and preserves. Fresh cranberries make fabulous pies, cobblers, crumbles, and tarts. They also do a great job flavoring meats and stuffings and perking up cocktails.
From The Gourmet Cookbook (Conde Nast Publications, 2004)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
2/3 cup very cold heavy cream
Combine the berries, sugar and water in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
Transfer the cranberry mixture to a food processor or blender and puree. Force the puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium metal bowl. Discard the solids. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water. Let the puree stand, stirring occasionally, until just cool.
Transfer 1/2 cup cranberry puree to a small bowl. Beat the heavy cream in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks hold. Stir one quarter of whipped cream into the puree remaining in the medium bowl then gently but thoroughly fold in the remaining whipped cream. Fold in the reserved puree just until marbled through the cream mixture.
Spoon the fool into 4 stemmed glasses. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or freeze for 10 minutes before serving.
November 11th, 2011 § § permalink
Whether you host or are being hosted for Thanksgiving, you’ve probably begun mulling over your holiday menu. In some households, such as my parents’, you go over the list of what you had offered the previous year, toss out an item or two, and add in something new. You then start shopping, cooking and, in my mother’s case, swearing that – enough is enough – next Thanksgiving you’re going out to dinner.
Each year a few brave souls start from scratch, forgoing the last year’s stuffings and mashed potatoes in favor of creative, new fare. I’ve learned that this is not the time to try out your cutting edge chilled cardamom lentils, truffle-dusted parsnip chips, or pumpkin-ginger puree. On a day steeped in tradition folks want and expect customary Thanksgiving foods.
Increasingly, hosts have begun turning to their guests for their menus. “I’ll provide the turkey. You bring a side or two.” Closer in action to the original feast, this practice encourages everyone to share the responsibility of cooking.
That brings me to today’s topic — what sides to take to a Thanksgiving potluck. Whatever you bring, remember that it has to transport and reheat well. Fortunately, the following side dishes do both.
Recipe courtesy of the November 2004 Thanksgiving issue of “Food & Wine”
Makes about 3 cups
I love that you can make this recipe ahead of time and that, refrigerated, it keeps for up to 2 weeks.
1 cup cranberry juice
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 orange, removed in large strips
4 cups frozen cranberries
1 cup dried cranberries
In a medium saucepan combine the cranberry juice with the sugar and orange zest and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Add the frozen and dried cranberries and cook over moderate heat, gently crushing the fresh berries against the side of the pan until the conserve is thick and jam-like, about 10 minutes. Let cool and then discard the zest.
5 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 cup creme fraiche
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
In a large saute pan on medium heat melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the corn and creme fraiche and cook over low heat, stirring as little as possible, until the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. To reheat, placed the creamed shallot-corn in a non-stick saucepan and simmer over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until warmed, about 5 minutes.
Serves 6 to 8
4 cups crumbled cornbread
2 cups wheat bread crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup diced Macintosh apples
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup apple cider
1/2 cup chicken stock
Place cornbread and wheat bread crumbs on a baking sheet and toast under a medium broiler until browned. Remove and place in a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a large baking dish.
In a small sauté pan heat 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the onion and celery and sauté for 10 minutes, until softened but not browned. Place the sautéed vegetables in the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Add the apples, cranberries, thyme, rosemary and salt and stir until the ingredients are well combined. Evenly pour the apple cider and the stock over the stuffing and toss together.
Loosely layer the stuffing in the buttered baking dish. Dot the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes until browned. If reheating, preheat an oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Dot the top of the stuffing with a smidgen of butter and cover with foil. Heat for 10 to 15 minutes and serve.
Serves 10 to 12
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 celery stalks, washed and diced
1 cup chestnuts, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
dash of dried thyme
ground black pepper
1 1/2 bags of seasoned bread cubes
2 1/2 to 4 cups chicken stock, warmed
butter, for dotting the top of the stuffing
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a large baking dish.
Heat the olive then saute the onion and celery until soft and translucent. Add the chestnuts, rosemary, thyme, and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat them with oil and to distribute the onion-celery-chestnut-herb mixture evenly.
Pour in the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to moisten all the bread cubes. You may not use all the stock but you do want to use enough to ensure that the stuffing isn’t too dry.
Tumble the stuffing into the buttered baking dish. Dot the top of the stuffing with butter, cover with foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the top is golden brown. If re-heating, preheat an oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Dot the top of the stuffing with a smidgen of butter and cover with foil again. Heat for 10 to 15 minutes and serve.
November 4th, 2011 § § permalink
The downside to be married to, or even knowing, a writer is that inevitably you get pulled into one of her stories. Three years ago that very thing happened to my husband. Not only did I mention him in an article about root vegetables but also did an editor make him the star of the headline: At 38 man finally tries parsnips.
The good news is that he now likes this pale, oblong vegetable. That is good news, indeed. High in starch and fiber as well as potassium, this relative of the carrot has long provided nourishing, filling meals.
Although it took my husband almost four decades to appreciate this frost-hardy plant, much of the Western world has consumed it since ancient times. Growing wild throughout Europe and western Asia, the parsnip was first farmed during Roman times. Because it prospers in cooler climates and sandy or impoverished soils, it is ideal peasant food.
Parsnips served a vital role in medieval European cuisine. At a time when sugar was a rare luxury, these honeyed veggies acted as the sweetener in pies, pastries and even fermented drinks. In Northern Ireland they formed the basis for beer, while the rest of Great Britain used them in wine.
With the arrival of sugar, parsnips gradually fell out of favor. The introduction of potatoes likewise reduced their popularity. I find this a shame for these sweet vegetables have much to offer.
Easy to prepare, parsnips can be baked, stewed, steamed or pureed alone or with other root vegetables. Often they are boiled and mashed with butter, just like their usurper, the potato. I prefer to cut them into chunks and bake them with fresh rosemary, a sprinkle of salt and olive oil, or turn them into a creamy, rich soup.
I’ve also been known to turn them into hearty and healthful parsnip chips. Just slice the parsnips and toss them with olive oil and salt. Spread them across a cookie sheet and bake them in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven until slightly caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes. Without question, parsnip chips are my ultimate salty-sweet snack.
Parsnips reach their prime after the first frost. Considering the East Coast snow of last weekend, they should now be perfect for picking and eating.
PARSNIP AND FENNEL SOUP
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound of parsnips, peeled and diced
About 1 pound of fennel bulb, diced (save tops for garnish if you want); adjust accordingly, as not everyone enjoys the taste of fennel
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Generous handful of hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
In a Dutch oven, cook the parsnips, fennel and onion in butter over moderately low heat, stirring periodically for about 15 minutes, or until soft
Add the flour, stirring 3 or so minutes
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes
Add the cream, salt and pepper. Stir until heated through. Top with chopped fennel tops and hazelnuts and serve.