Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cranberry sauce with orange and apple

I just enjoyed the first of our “thanksgiving dinners.” Since my son, his girlfriend and my mom are all going to be out of town on the actual holiday, we shared a little meal together tonight. Happily, my son’s girlfriend is a vegetarian so we skipped the turkey and had all the good stuff- the side dishes- Yum! I so love the dishes I make for thanksgiving so it is nice to break it up like this and have a few options to enjoy rather than over eat for one meal and regretting it!

 Tomorrow, I am bringing food to our church for a thanksgiving lunch. Thursday, we will have a few friends and acquaintances join us. Friday, we are gathering with a few other families to share another meal. Oh dear, I think it is time to renew my gym membership!

 It is a good thing that not all of the dishes I make are loaded with fats,  butter and calories.  This recipe does have a lot of sugar but since it is meant to be eaten in small servings I think we don’t have to worry unless you have a problem with sugar. If you do have someone who cannot have sugar at your thanksgiving meal, perhaps you could try this with just apples, oranges, and toasted nuts but skip the cranberries, lemon, orange zest and sugar.

Like many in my generation, I grew up with cranberry sauce shaped like a can. I thought I liked cranberry sauce…but I had no idea what a delectable treat it could be. Now I wait eagerly for fresh cranberries to appear in our local market. I even freeze some so I can continue to make this long after the holidays. Yes, it is that good! And for my non- thanksgiving celebrating readers, it is not just for the holidays. If you can find cranberries wherever you are, you should try this as a refreshing side for dinners or desserts. Do they have cranberries in the UK or Europe? I am assuming readers in Indonesia or Sri lanka may have some trouble finding them.

I began creating more and more Thanksgiving recipes especially since I started catering a Thanksgiving meal for about 250 every year a couple decades ago. I had lots of help for this meal and it was served in a large venue with a great kitchen on the Sunday before thanksgiving and no, I don’t do this anymore --whew! This is one of the things that really launched both my catering career and my teaching classes in cooking. People seemed to like the dishes I prepared for this meal and soon I had waiting lists of people wanting to take classes or get their event catered. It was pretty fun for a while.

During this same time, I began hosting Thanksgiving at our home for the first time with  extended family and friends, so I cooked another big meal a few days later. I really loved being able to make things the way I liked them for thanksgiving.  For the most part, my family enjoyed my cooking but one thing that some relatives insisted on was cranberry sauce from a can. So they did not get to enjoy this delicious home-made version for several years until some friends insisted on it for turkey day too. Once my relatives tasted this, they liked it so much they began to make it at home too. So if your guests think they prefer canned sauce, you may surprise them with this version!

Cranberry sauce with orange and apple

One bag of fresh cranberries, washed and sorted

1-1 ½ cup sugar, may use  more or less as needed (white or brown or even some agave or honey with the sugar)

½ cup orange juice, bottled or fresh, more if needed

½ cup apple juice, more if needed

Cinnamon stick

1 orange

1 apple, granny smith preferred

1 tsp. Lemon juice or 2 tsp finely grated lemon  zest ( yellow part of peel) optional

¼- ½ tsp. of cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp cardamom, optional

½ tsp. vanilla or orange extract, optional

2/3 cup walnuts or pecans, optional

Put clean cranberries, sugar, juices and cinnamon stick in large pot and let simmer for 10 minutes.  

Heat oven to 350 and roast nuts( if using)  for 8 minutes or until brown.

Clean and zest orange( grate off outer colored peel) and add the zest to pan. Remove rest of orange skin and discard. If you want less orange flavor or less work, skip the zesting and just peel orange. Cut up peeled orange into little bitty pieces and add it to pan. ( you could use food processor.)
Peel and finely dice apple and add to pan. (Again you can use food processor just don’t over chop, leave it in fine dice.) Add lemon juice and extract, cinnamon. After a few minutes taste to see if you want to add more sugar.
Cook over medium- low heat until cranberries have popped and sauce is thickened-about an hour to an hour and a half until nicely melded and very thick. You may leave it on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Refrigerate several hours. This will keep for several days and you can make ahead a day or even two before.

Serve with roasted nuts to garnish.
Note:  You can make this with Ginger--you could add 2 tsp grated fresh ginger or, my favorite, a few hunks of candied ginger chopped as finely as you can.
You could also try this with orange marmalade, Reduce sugar to 2/3 cup and add ½-2/3 cup good orange marmalade.

  Recipe by Denise Birdsall, 1996 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hummus with Roasted Red Pepper

        Ah the holidays- this time of year is for sweet potatoes, pumpkin and turkey but it is also a time of many social gatherings and there is a need for party food. Really--there is always a need for party food!  I love to make all kinds of appetizers, tapas or small plates, and snacks.

       I like to have thanksgiving dinner a bit later in the day and put out some appetizers earlier on to tide people over. I often make appetizers from various cultures because I think it highlights our cultural diversity in America, for which I am thankful. It is nice to serve something that might stretch someone’s idea of regular Thanksgiving Day fare and give a little pizazz to a sometimes predictable meal. A note on Thanksgiving day menus—you may want to talk with your family before you change too much about the main players on your menu since family members may be very attached to particular dishes. I try to find out what special dish each one is expecting to find and try to make at least some of their wishes come true.  But for appetizers, I think anything goes!

            We have hosted several gatherings just this week so I made a large batch of hummus to help sustain our guests.   Hummus is so easy to make and  when you make it yourself you can decide on what you would like to add in—lemon juice and garlic are favorites, but I love to add roasted red peppers! It really gives hummus a nice, sweet flavor. I know some purists may cringe but I like roasted red pepper hummus better than any other. The recipe I use is easy since I use canned chickpeas, but if you have time, try cooking up dried chickpeas and using them.

I am not sure where I learned to make  hummus since I have been doing it for quite a while and tweaking it as I go. However, I got the idea of the red peppers from a hummus I buy that is made in Boulder; I think it is called Blue Moose. This is my go to if I don’t have time to make any hummus.

I usually have all the ingredients for hummus in my kitchen except for tahini. But making tahini is easier than making hummus! I usually do have some sesame seeds on hand and that is all you really need with just a bit of oil. Tahini that is made at home is different than store bought. It has much more texture. I think this texture actually improves the hummus but if you have store-bought tahini feel free to use that.

So here is my little recipe for red pepper hummus, adapt as you please :-) I sometimes add other things too such as artichoke hearts or green olives--see note.

I am off to prepare the first of 4 thanksgiving type dinners. My mom and my son and his girlfriend will all be traveling this Thanksgiving so we are having a vegetarian thanksgiving together tonight.

Hummus with Roasted Red Peppers

25 oz can of organic garbanzo beans *

¼ cup tahini (may use more, home made or store bought)

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed, ( or about2- 3 tsp)

1/3 to ½ cup or so fresh lemon juice

2 tsp olive oil

1 cup roasted red peppers, jarred or homemade

5 drops hot sauce, sriracha or tabasco

Pinch of cayenne pepper and sprinkle of lemon pepper, optional

1 tsp salt. Kosher or sea salt

Rinse canned chickpeas well. Put them together with tahini into food processor and blend for 1-2 minutes. Add everything else and process for at least 2 minutes, stopping a few times to stir
Garnish with paprika, olive oil, parsley. Serve with vegetables, cucumbers esp., pita chips, tabouleh salad, tomatoes, lettuce and pitas.
*If you can only find 15 oz cans, use two and just up the other ingredients a bit
Note: You can also add other flavors such as 1/3 cup artichoke hearts, 6 green olives, 2 tsp capers or roasted garlic
Tahini recipe
1 cup sesame seeds
  1/3 cup olive oil

Heat oven to 350 and toast seeds for 5-7 minutes till just starting to turn golden. Cool slightly and  add to blender or food processor and blend for about 2 minutes until it is paste like. Refrigerate left overs for 2 months or so.

Here are some pictures from some of our recent gatherings. We all enjoyed the hummus and other appetizers and the wonderful company!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Winter squash with Quinoa, fruit, nuts and a pomegranate drizzle

Okay, here is the first recipe where I used the pomegranate molasses.
I made stuffed small baked winter squash, called golden nugget, with a wonderful quinoa dish with fruit, nuts and seeds. Then I topped each with a drizzle of the pomegranate  molasses I shared in the last post.
 I made this with small gold nugget squash which are like little pumpkins. I received several in my CSA box   Quinoa and  winter squash are both nutrient dense and putting them together multiplies the nutrition. Quinoa, a seed which cooks up  like a grain, contains all essential  amino acids so it is a great source of protein. Winter squash are full of vitamins and fiber.

I roasted the squash and stuffed it with a delicious mixture of quinoa, cranberries, pepitas, pecans, raisins and pistachios.
You can make the quinoa recipe ahead of time or even as a stand alone dish.

Roasted winter squash  with Quinoa, fruit, nuts, & pomagranate molasses
Small sized winter squash, half squash per person
Oil,  Water,  Cinnamon and brown sugar
Quinoa stuffing with fruit and nuts ( see recipe below)

First make up the quinoa recipe (see below) and set aside

You may use any small squash such as acorn or the one I used here- Golden nugget squash or buttercup. Oil a baking dish and add a bit of water. Wash squash and cut in half. Remove seeds. (For golden nugget or other hard to cut squash you my pierce and pre-bake it whole for 20 minutes then cool slightly and continue with cutting in half and deseeding.)

If squash doesn’t lie fairly flat you may take a little sliver off the bottom so it will.  Place shell side up ( cut down)  in baking dish and cover with foil. Place in middle of 350 oven for about 30 minutes.

Take squash out of oven and remove foil. Turn them cut side up. Heat a ¼ cup butter (or a bit of coconut oil or olive oil if you are keeping this lactose free) and sprinkle with a bit of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon and brown sugar.

Fill squashes to the top with quinoa. Don’t pack it down, leave it a bit fluffy. Bake for another 15 minutes and generously drizzle pomegranate molasses (see previous post) and  return to oven. After 5 minutes, check for doneness. Squash should be tender but still hold its shape. 

Squash is best eaten with a spoon so the stuffing and squash can be scooped out.

Quinoa with dried fruit, nuts and seeds

1 cup quinoa
1 ¼ cup water or broth
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) raw or pre roasted
1 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP butter, unsalted ( or for non-dairy, use all oil)
½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
½ cup pistachios, shelled, roasted or raw
½ tsp EACH of coriander, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp or so salt
1 -2 tsp brown sugar
2-3 large chunks of candied ginger,minced, or 2 tsp. fresh ginger, crushed, optional
1 cup dried cranberries, sweetened
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup of lemon juice, fresh, about ½ a lemon

Start by rinsing quinoa. I buy pre rinsed when available but still make sure to rinse well to remove all of the bitter residue that is a naturally occurring pest and mildew deterrent.  I use a strainer and bowl to soak and rinse.
Next it is time to cook the quinoa. This time, I tried using our rice cooker which worked very well. Quinoa may also be cooked in a large pot with a tight lid if desired.  Add the butter, oil, nuts, fruit and spices  first then just add water and cook. But the rice cooker works wonderfully with little effort or checking making nice fluffy “grains.” Just cook as you would rice.
If the pepitas are raw, toast them while quinoa cooks. I like to toast in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. If they are pre roasted just add them later
When quinoa is almost done, heat oil and butter in large pan. Add pecans and cook for a minute or so. If pistachios are raw, cook them at the same time. Add minced ginger, brown sugar, salt and spices. Cook one more minute. Add dried fruit and cook another minute or so. Stir in cooked quinoa and pepitas. Taste to see if you need to add more salt or spice.

Optional- drizzle of pomegranate  molasses

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pomegranate Molasses

I am a sucker for a good reduction sauce. There is just something magical about putting a few simple, ordinary ingredients into a pan and letting it simmer away until something extraordinary happens.  What started out as vinegar or juice or wine becomes this beautiful glossy mixture. After it is cooled sufficiently,  dip in a spoon and let it cool for a bit, just to be sure, then taste it and you cannot help but exclaim, “Oh, wow, that is incredible!”

I want to share with you the sauce I have been experimenting with for the past week: Pomegranate Molasses. I actually have a few new recipes to share with you but I want to break them up into a couple of posts at least because each of these components stand alone.  I am sharing the Pomegranate molasses first, which plays a supporting role but gives the following recipes their magic.

You can use this in sauces over sweet or savory dishes, or as a salad dressing or marinade. It has a tart-sweet flavor that complements meats, poultry, salads, grains, vegetables, fruits…um, yeah like all kinds of things. I can’t wait to try it on chicken but coming soon, I will share the delicious fall vegetarian dish I drizzled this sauce over.

I had never heard of pomegranate molasses until I saw it in Grant farm’s CSA newletter, where it was mentioned as part of a dressing for tabouleh lettuce wraps. They said it could be purchased or made at home so I decided to experiment with making it at home. I pretty much knew from the newsletter that it utilized pomegranate juice with a bit of sugar and lemon juice so I just started mixing everything together. I later saw some guidelines all over the internet such as on Simply and they were pretty much the same as I was making because reduction sauces are so easy to do. With this one, just add a bit of sugar and lemon and cook on low till thick and reduced from 4 cups to 1-2 cups. It sounds simple but the results are anything but. The reduction creates a complex, rich and amazingly textured sauce if you do it right.

Okay, let me admit that the first time I made this, I did not do it right and it still turned out great. For one thing, I started on it after midnight. I got a bit busy when it was finishing up more than an later and did not keep a good eye on it at the end. This is a mistake!! You can wonder through the kitchen every 10 or so minutes for the first 50 minutes of cooking but then, do not leave it. It goes from glossy goodness to gooey mess quicly. Luckily, I caught it just before it became unusable. I also burned my finger a bit because this stuff retains its heat, which I already knew but forgot in my hurry to get it out of the pan before it hardened. Anyway, I still was able to use that pomegranate molasses as a marinade for a brisket and it was wonderful. But I wanted to try again to get it perfect.

I made some yesterday, earlier in the day, and this time I kept a close eye it as it neared the end and caught it in its perfect level of transformation. Wonderful. I like to stop somewhere just between pomegratnate syrup and molasses- reducing to almost 1 ¼ cups.

Okay, here is what you will need.

Add about an hour of cooking time and here is what you get.

Pomegranate Molasses

    4 cups pomegranate juice

    ½- 2/3 cup sugar, white

    ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, about ½ a lemon

Throw it all in a large saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat once sugar is dissolved and keep pan on a low simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Keep a closer eye on it after 50 minutes to make sure it does not turn to sticky goo.

For a syrup like consistency you can stop when it gets syrup like and has reduced to about 1 ½ to 2 cups.  But it makes a glossy velvety sauce when reduced to about 1 ¼ or 1 cup and then it is called pomegranate molasses. It is ready to be drizzled over foods or mixed into your favorite sauces, salad dressings or marinades.

 So a hint of the secret ingredient of the next recipe...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicken Marsala with Bacon, Mushrooms and Onion

I have had a few busy days lately and have often been in need of an easy recipe to get dinner on the table quickly. Pasta dishes are perfect when you don’t have long to cook so I want to share with you another pasta recipe that I made this week. I love the flavor of chicken Marsala. I have several variations on this but this time I thought it would be nice to bring bacon to the mix. I know some people don’t eat pork and if that is you, you could substitute oil and butter. But I have to say the bacon is a delicious addition to this recipe.

The flavor of marsala, mushrooms, onions and bacon are awesome but the chicken here turned out exceptionally tender and delicious. I really like dusting with flour and sautéing in bacon grease and then finishing it off with the Marsala and broth. This is a flavorful and comforting dish and it is ready to serve in less than a half hour.

Marsala chicken with mushrooms and bacon

5 slices bacon*
1 Onion, chopped
8 oz mushroom, (may use more), sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp thyme
1/3 cup or so of flour with generous pinch of poultry seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper, thyme, Salt and pepper
8 or so chicken tenderloins, cut into large bite sized pieces
½ box (1/2 lb) pasta, mini or regular bowtie, penne, or fettuccini
1 cup or so Marsala wine
½ cup chicken broth
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sugar, dash of salt, pepper        

In a large shallow pan, fry the bacon. Drain and reserve renderings and set aside bacon strips. Pour a little bit of renderings back into pan and heat onion on low for 6 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms, add garlic and sprinkle with thyme and cook for another 5-7 minutes till mushrooms are softened. Remove mixture to a dish.
Begin heating a large pot of salted water for pasta.
Place flour on a plate with seasonings and lightly drudge chicken in it, shake off excess. Add a bit of bacon grease and heat to medium. Add chicken. Brown lightly on both sides, about 3 minutes on each. Add in Marsala wine, broth, balsamic, and lower to simmer.
Once water is boiling rapidly, add pasta. Keep water boiling for whatever time is listed on box. Drain when done.
After 3-5 minutes, add mushroom mix back in. Once chicken is no longer pink inside, add chopped bacon and serve over pasta or mix it all together. Garnish with cheese if desired.  Serve with sautéed spinach or green salad.
*If you prefer not to use bacon, you could substitute canola oil or half butter and half oil.

Please let me know what you think. I love to read comments and I want to know if you try this! Love, love love comments :-)
Recipe by Denise Birdsall 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Roasted Tomato and Kalamata Olive with Pasta

                  I like to have things on hand that I can throw together for a quick dinner. Last night, I was busy baking for my friend’s art show and I needed to have something ready for the family to eat before I took off. Roasted tomatoes to the rescue! Sometimes when Roma tomatoes are looking good and on sale, I like to buy a bag and roast them up for sauces and soups. You could also roast cherry tomatoes for this, or a meatier variety. The seeds and gel like pulp are not desired here so I usually use Roma because it has less of those. The flavors of roasted tomatoes are concentrated and intensified by the caramelization of roasting. It is very easy to eat more tomatoes in this form, which is a very good thing.
           Maybe a word here on Caramelization. Caramelizing things like vegetables involves a browning of sugars which creates a sweeter, more intense flavor. When onions are caramelized they are cooked at a low heat to soften and then a slightly higher heat to brown, resulting in a nice golden color and incredible sweet onion flavor. Similarly, the tomatoes here are roasted then allowed to brown a bit around the edges to increase the natural sweetness and mellow the acidic bite. Some of the liquid is roasted away, giving tomatoes a slightly chewier texture and deeper flavor. You are not looking for all over brown or black as this would not look appealing or taste as good. The roasted tomatoes here are only lightly caramelized.

        Roasted tomatoes can be blended into a marinara sauce or pureed into a soup. If I am planning on this I often pre skin tomatoes by dipping in boiling water for a minute then shocking in ice water. Skinning is not necessary but it gives smooth sauces and soups a creamier, more consistent texture.  Roasted tomatoes are great chopped up for bruschetta. Pieces of tomato can top pizza or be mixed into pasta. They can be served  over fish or chicken or mixed into other vegetable dishes.  These tomatoes are so good you could just eat them as a side dish!  No premade, store bought mixes needed with these babies around! Once a bit more of the snow melts from last’s nights storm I am off to get more Roma tomatoes.

                For last night’s meal, I looked in the pantry and found a jar of Kalamata olives. I wanted to keep this simple without too many ingredients. The tomatoes had been roasted with onions and garlic so that added some extra layers of flavor. I also had some goat cheese and parmesan in the fridge so that went into the mix, too. Olives add a nice dimension of flavor and the goat cheese and parm adds a tart and salty creaminess.  We all really loved the outcome. My husband said, “Make sure you write this one down.” Posting here takes care of that and I can share it with all of you!

All in all, a very tasty dish which can be ready in flash if you keep some roasted tomatoes on hand in the fridge or freezer and some olives and pasta in the pantry. In a pinch, if you are ever snowed in  and want to have good staples to use in your panty,  you could use quality, fire roasted canned tomatoes.   

Okay, here is the recipe.
Roasted Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives with Pasta

10 -12 Roma tomatoes

1 onion

2 garlic cloves, crushed,

3-4  TBSP  Olive oil

1 + TBSP balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. Italian herbs

Pinch of red pepper flakes,  garlic powder

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

Pasta, mini shells, elbow, bow tie or penne to serve 4-6 (about a half pound or half box)

6-8 oz. Kalamata olives, pitted

1-2 TBSP olive oil

3-4 TBSP goat cheese  *see substitutes

¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated

Extra goat cheese and parmesan for garnish

First roast  the tomatoes If you would like, put foil over large rectangular baking sheet with a rim.  Then place 1 TBSP olive oil on pan. Wash and cut tomatoes in fourths lengthwise then cut each fourth in half. (If you prefer, you could just cut the tomatoes in half.)  Try to remove as many seeds as possible using water and fingers.

Preheat oven to 350.  Place in rectangular baking pan and drizzle with 2-3 TBSP olive oil and about a TBSP balsamic vinegar. Place in oven and roast for 25 minutes at 350.

 Remove from oven and turn pieces over, add sliced onion and crushed garlic. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, herbs, garlic powder and sugar. (You could add everything all at once, but onions will brown faster than tomatoes.)

Roast another 20 minutes or so minutes till tomatoes are soft. Times for this vary! Raise temperature to 400 and roast until there is some light caramelization  (browning), without over browning, about 10 minutes ( see my notes above.) Turn pieces often and cook until  browned on some edges. You are not looking for blackened tomatoes or over all brown, just a bit here and there to add flavor.

These may be made ahead of time and refrigerated. I like to double this part of the recipe and put half away in the freezer for future use.

Boil a big pot of salted water for pasta. You can use any shaped pasta, looking for something around the same size as the tomato pieces- shells, elbow, bowtie, penne  or rotini may be good.  Cook pasta al dente, drain and reserve. Into same pot, add another TBSP or two of olive oil and heat tomatoes and olives for a couple minutes.
Add pasta back along with 3-4 TBSP goat cheese and ¼ cup parmesan. (*No Goat cheese? No problem! You may substitute feta or just use parmesan.Or perhaps add a bit of cream cheese) Stir and heat through. Season if needed.  Plate and garnish with a bit of extra parmesan  and goat cheese.
Recipe By Dinner with Denise

Happy Autumn ???