Tarty Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

I confess. When I was a kid, I loved the cranberry jelly stuff we had on the holidays. It was the closest thing I had to Jell-o, being raised a vegetarian. Plus it was fun to play with.

Time passed and I realized I had no idea what that stuff actually was, so stopped eating it. Someone tried to pawn off the loose cranberries in jelly stuff that is pretty similar, but I wasn’t fooled. Nope. Not me.

Now, a great many years later, I’ve lifted my embargo on cranberry stuff at the holidays. I discovered craisins or dried cranberries, and decided I can accept them into my life again. And thank Jebus, because I discovered this wonderful little recipe at our office Thanksgiving pot-luck.

It’s fresh and zesty, and best when made several days before you intend to use it. Which is optimal if you have a lot of cooking to do on the day of a big dinner. Make it up two days before and pop I in the fridge. All you gotta do is artfully pile it in a pretty dish and you’re ready to rock and roll.

Fresh Cranberry Relish
Serves 8-12

24 ounces fresh cranberries (two 12 ounce bags)
2 tangerines/oranges
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated ginger
Pinch of salt

1. You want to zest two tangerines or small oranges, and then squeeze the juice from one. Many recipes for this relish call for a whole navel orange, but any type of sweet citrus would probably work just fine. You do not want more tangy or sour flavors here.

2. Enter food processor. I have a 9-cup jobbie that’s super fun, but I still do this in two bathes to keep my mess under control. So put one bag of cranberries, and half of the sugar, ginger, salt, and zest/juice into the processor. You’ll have to use your judgment about how coarsely chopped you want it, but I recommend erring on the side off too chunky or you get mush. Do this a second time with the rest of the ingredients.

3. Pop this all in a bowl you can refrigerate and give it a good stir. You can keep this in the fridge to marinate for three days before it peaks, but a minimum of one full day is a must. I like to pull it out to stir a few times during, just to get those flavors all excited and mixed up. Serve it cold from the fridge, or take it out early to let it warm up a bit.

Cranberries are fun to cook with, and drink. If you work with fresh cranberries, you’ll know some are significantly more tart than others. So be the judge of how much sugar you need to use. This original recipe called for 3/4 to 1 cup of white sugar, but that was kind of outrageous. I switched to the brown sugar because the molasses gave a more mellow, smoky sweetness that works with the zesty berries.

Besides the bright flavors this relish adds to your holiday meal, you are going to love how sexy the deep red relish looks on the table.

[Girl21]

It’s Strawberry Season Again?

I have food guilt. Not the guilt from having eaten too much food. The guilt of knowing that food is going bad in my fridge RIGHT NOW! I really hate throwing fruits and veggies in the compost because I waited too long to use them. But sometimes I can’t keep up with my own kitchen.

Someone had left two baskets of strawberries in my fridge and I woke up one morning knowing they were on their last little legs. I could almost hear them calling to me, “End it! End our suffering!”

Okay, that’s a little morbid. I did feel the need to use them before they went off, and of course I had a loaf of beer bread eyeing me from the top of the fridge. The pressure was on. I diced up the strawberries and a few other things, tossed them into a sauce pot while we sipped our coffee on the back porch, and in ten minutes we were happily munching on breakfast.

I don’t know what this would be called. I like to think of it as a sweet chutney because of my Indian food background, but I guess it would be closer to a warm fruit spread. I welcome proper classification from a foodie know-it-all.

Ingredients:
1 cup diced strawberries
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup (or less) white wine or dry vermouth

I diced up the strawberries into big chunks, and because they were not completely fresh, they were a little on the dry side. So when I put them into the sauce pan with the sugar, I poured a little dry vermouth in also, just to moisten the sugar and berries. (I always have a bottle of Martini & Rossi extra dry vermouth for cooking instead of wine because the vermouth has added aromatics that give a lovely depth to dishes.) I suppose if you’re boring, you could just add a little water.

The candied ginger can be tricky to dice up because it’s so sticky. I love having a big bag of Reeds crystallized ginger on hand. It’s great for digestion after a particularly heavy meal. And it’s fun to add a little pop of flavor to cookies, oatmeal, and now fruit. If you can find the grain on each piece of ginger, it makes your life easier here. Chop this up to a reasonably small size and mix that into the strawberries.

Then chop up the mint leaves into fine ribbons and add that as well. Mint is wonderful to grow because it hardly needs any maintenance as long as it gets enough water and light. My one plant is actively taking over the front porch. I suspect it makes nasty threats to the other plants when I’m not around.

Anyhow, on a medium low heat, stirring occasionally, this should be done in less than ten minutes. The strawberries will get very soft, but they should remain pinkish in the center, and the liquid will look like soupy jelly. Spread on some thick-cut toast and enjoy.

As for me, I can hear some potatoes and an onion in the fridge asking for Dr. Kevorkian, so I suppose I’ll need to make some soup today.

[Girl21]

Universe Smoothie

Universe's Best Smoothie

When you’re single, there’s that thing that’s just not very fun to do alone on a regular basis. Cook.

There’s something unglamorous about eating black beans from the can while standing over the kitchen sink. You could always invite yourself over to couple-friends houses for meals, but they tend to catch on eventually and move without telling you where. If you’re on a budget, eating out is not an option. And no, anything with a drive-thru is not food. So what to do? I engineered the universe’s best smoothie to combat the drudgery of eating alone while single. It’s simple, nutritious, tastes good, and isn’t very expensive per serving.

Of course, it’s now a stand-by meal on a rushed morning, great for that after-workout protein shot, and ideal for the hot, hot summer months when the stove is the enemy. It’s easy to double up to serve two also. <3 <3 <3 [gratuitous smootchie love hearts to The Man]

Feel free to juggle the ingredients of course (alternatives and additions suggested below), but put these in the blender in this order to prevent a peanut butter mess:

1 cup yogurt (vanilla; or plain and a tablespoon of honey, yum!)
1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (real peanut butter of course)
1 banana
1/3 cup frozen fruit (cherries, or berry mix)
2/3 cup orange juice

Blend until frozens are integrated. Yum!

I sometimes put 1/4 cup of oatmeal into the blender first to chop fine, and then add back into the mix with the OJ. A friend freezes kale and crumbles it into hers for added healthiness. Another friend stealthily adds veggies to her toddler’s. If you are ridiculously organized and creative, you can make your own yoghurt, pick and freeze your own fruit, juice your own oranges, and become an apiarist. Don’t laugh. My dear sweet sister is amazing like this, but it’s sometimes exhausting to watch her get through her day.

For the yogurt, I prefer Stonyfield Farm when I’m feeling super optimistic, or Dannon natural vanilla. When I start reading the ingredients list of simple products and they are more than five items long, it makes me nervous. What is it and why does it need to be in my food? This is becoming one of my tedious rants in my old age, I suppose.

Because bananas can be tricky and people have issues of too-ripe or too-green (I think bananas are only edible while still bright yellow with only a few freckles, but people have very strong opinions about this), I suggest waiting until a bunch are the right age for you, peeling them and breaking them into chunks, and freezing them stored loosely in bags so they don’t become a solid lump. That way you can toss them into your smoothie as needed and not end up with bananas that look like a cat snuck up onto your kitchen counter and did its business.

Once again, here is something on our ‘Cooking’ list that has nothing to do with actually cooking. I do cook, believe it or not. But as we hurtle towards summer and all of its steaming glory, I look for ways to avoid sweating like a priest at a Boy Scout convention. So keeping the stove off is a priority. It’s tough to do this and still get all the necessary daily nutritional requirements in a form that is also tasty. I love food, and I love eating yummy food. But I also put a priority (especially as a vegetarian) on eating responsibly.

[Girl21]

Finger Meals Fast

Only Martha Stewart and other aliens are always prepared for guests. The rest of us get get caught off guard by last minute guests or find ourselves feeling inadequate in the kitchen. If you live close to a decent grocery store, you can always come up with a classy spread after a ten minute dash around the deli and produce sections.

I have to say I’m quite practiced at this by now. I host a book club at my house (much to The Man’s amusement on those nights he’s home to witness the ladies’ gathering) and twice a month have to rush through the store on the way home from the office. A couple sorts of cheese, some savory crunchy things, some seasonal fruits and veggies, and some sweet tidbits… you’re gold.

Keep in mind the crowd you’re entertaining when choosing you yummy little bits and pieces. People used to potato chips and orange cheddar cheese are just not going to be game to try the Roaring Forties blue cheese. On the other hand, fresh fruit is usually a good option for just about any group. And of course you’re limited by your local grocery store.

We’re lucky enough to live near a Publix and Ward’s. We went to Upstate New York last summer and I was introduced to Wegmans, so my world has never been quite the same. Never the less, I shop at Publix happily because you can get a decent selection of fresh deli and bakery things. Plus the added Greenwise sections mean some good healthfood options. And of course I like Ward’s because it’s a locally owned business that has great local produce, super-healthfood sections, and a fun selection of wine and beer (that I can spend too much time perusing). And they stock the best coffee in town, Sweetwater Organic Coffee.

Anyhow, two things to keep in mind in these situations, SIMPLE and FRESH. Wait … three things… YUMMY! For a base, try getting a loaf of herb bread or a whole grain baton (yes, the long bread), which you can slice up and pop in the oven. Try a jar of pre-made pesto to slather on the bread first, topped with some deli sliced gouda and crumbled gorganzola. Or just sprinkle the slices with salt, pepper, italian herbs, and garlic powered, then cheese. Just toast them in the oven long enough to melt the cheese and let some corners get a bit golden. A box of Triscuits or some other whole grain crackers are also good if you’re in a hurry or want a variety.

For savories, if you have an olive bar, absolutely go a little wild. Even toss in some garlic stuffed and blue cheese stuffed options with the usual oil cured and kalamata. If you can find some Castelvetrano Sicilian olives, these bright green beauties are delish. Or splash out on a few nice jars of olives off the shelf. Try a jar of asparagus and artichoke hearts for a little texture.

Fruits and veggies are great balance, and besides a little cutting and arranging, are very little work. I usually go for some Granny Smith apples and whatever is in season… peaches, cherries, grapes, or pears. And for veggies it’s a no-brainer to grab some carrots (always organic carrots!), celery, cauliflower, broccoli, and maybe a pretty sweet pepper or two. I’m biased against tomatoes, but feel free to get some little cherry or grape tomatoes if you see some nice ones.

I left cheese for last because it’s the best place to go completely berserk. I could go on and on about cheese, but there are some safe bets to please the most people. Cheddar–no not the orange variety–is possibly the most obvious choice because you can easily chop it into chunks, it has a good texture, and its sharp but not overpowering flavor can pair with just about anything on the table (go for the sharpest version you can find… we like the Racer’s Edge Cabot since you can find it easily). I also usually grab a block of swiss if I can find it (I like Amish swiss) or even some Mexican queso fresco.

If you’re feeling adventursome, try a round of brie (or even goat brie). Keep the brie simple by unwrapping it, slicing the rind off the top and putting it in a shallow glass or ceramic oven-safe dish, drizzling it with olive oil and baking it at 350 for ten minutes. [In the above picture we had some cheese curds, and a super yum Humbolt Fog goat cheese.]

Notice I didn’t go on about wine or other drinks here. That’s pages of rambling. For my book club ladies I usually go for a mild red wine, maybe a chard if I’m looking to change it up a bit. I love a nice tempranillo in the $7-10 range. Or my standard seems to be a bottle of Our Daily Red (fantastic at about $7 a bottle). Basically you want to go for something the most people will be comfortable drinking, and something you like.

A little chopping and slicing, and some attention to arranging the goodies, and you can set up a nice little spread in less than 30 minutes. It’s fresh food that’s also kind of healthy, and it’s fun and easy to eat while talking and drinking. And of course it’s tasty!

[Girl21]