a saucy cranberry christmas

One individual informed me, that the rosy complexion of the women had been attributed to their consumption of this article [cranberry sauce].”
~Letters on the Eastern States; Memoir on Cranberry Sauce, 1821

I know cranberry sauce is typically thought of as strictly a Thanksgiving side dish here in North America, however it’s in fact traditionally served with Christmas dinner in the UK. Personally I think it’s perfect for either meal, particularly if it’s homemade. We’ve all suffered through that can shaped log of purple jelly that goes directly from can to plate—belch—and based on that experience most of us claim to not like cranberry sauce. Well I’m here to hopefully change that opinion and to set things a few things straight. 1. Real cranberry sauce is nothing more than fresh cranberries, sugar and a bit of spice— so simple to make that even the least experienced of cooks can successfully pull it off. 2. Because of this perviously stated fact cranberry sauce should never come from a can. NEVER. 3. Very few people make their own cranberry sauce, regardless of how easy it is. Therefore if you do your guests will think you are a total culinary rock star; which is always a good reason to get in the kitchen!

My cranberry sauce recipe is the perfect combination of tart and sweet, so perfect in fact that my children actually fight over who gets to lick the spoon every time I make it. (I guess that tells you something!) Since cranberry season is such a short one (mid-September to mid-November) I make a point of always buying a bag or two around the holidays to keep in the freezer. Then when the mood strikes, simply defrost and rock n’ roll. I often serve it along with roasted turkey or beef, use it as a condiment on Blue Cheese + Chive Biscuit mini sandwiches or spoon it over a slice of pound cake or a scoop of vanilla ice cream— delicious! So go ahead and give homemade cranberry sauce a shot for your holiday dinner (or dessert) and tell me you don’t end up loving it too.

Triple Citrus Cranberry Sauce
This recipe is so easy and so delicious you won’t believe you ever considered dinner complete without it.

cran.sauce3

1 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
zest of 1 tangerine

  1. Add the first 5 ingredients to a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the berries begin to soften.
  2. Increase the heat, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered 2-3 minutes longer until the sauce begins to thicken and nearly all of the berries have popped.
  3. Allow to cool slightly in the pan before adding the tangerine zest to the sauce. Transfer to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
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salsa! (or was it a waltz?)

When life hands you lemons you make Limoncello (well at least I do). And when life hands you a bounty of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions you make… Salsa!

The calendar may read October but my garden is still churning out a summer’s share of the aforementioned vegetables. I’ve made countless batches of tomato sauce, sliced, diced and sautéed peppers and onions for every dish imaginable and made a super spicy simple salsa (say that three times fast), yet I still have plenty more vegetables left to use.

The traditional raw salsa I made was really fresh and delicious, but I wondered what would happen if I took the same ingredients and roasted them. I often slow roast tomatoes and serve them as appetizers along with herbed olives and cheese and I love how roasting broccoli turns the ordinary into extraordinary, so I was intrigued by the idea of a slow roasted salsa. As expected it was delicious with a depth of flavor the raw ingredients alone could never have achieved, although it struck me as more of a caponata and less like a salsa. Regardless of what you call it, I ended up with way more of this spicy little number than I thought we would eat with chips or enjoy in tacos. So, what did I do… Made soup of course!

We consume gallons of soup in our house. Once the weather cools off I often roast a chicken for dinner on Sundays, which means I always have a bit of leftover bird to do something with during the week. Soup is usually my solution and this spicy chicken and black bean soup was a particularly delicious creation.

It would appear that roasting is the never fail dance in 3/4 time method of cooking!

Spicy Chicken & Black Bean Soup
This soup is the perfect busy weeknight dinner.

spicysoup3

2 cups roasted tomato-chile salsa (see recipe below)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 cups leftover chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 tbsp. lime juice
diced avocado, for garnish
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
tortilla chips, for garnish

  1. In a large stockpot add the salsa, broth and the spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium simmer. Add the beans and let simmer for 15 minutes covered.
  2. Uncover and add the chicken and frozen corn and allow to cook until everything is heated through, about 8-10 min.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice (don’t skip the lime juice, it really adds a wonderful freshness to the soup), adjust the seasonings and serve garnished with avocado, fresh cilantro and shredded cheddar cheese with a few tortilla chips on the side.

Roasted Tomato-Chile Salsa
Roasting the vegetable and adding a little raw onion at the end makes this the perfect salsa.

2 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
1 lg. onion, quartered
1 head of garlic
1/2 lb. fresh Poblano chilies
3 fresh Habanero chilies
2 tbsp. olive oil
a handful of cilantro
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup finely diced onion

  1. Turn the broiler on to high. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and set aside.
  2. Break the head of garlic into cloves (leaving the skins on) and place in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the tomatoes, the quartered onion and chilies and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Toss to cover each vegetable in oil and place in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil until the skins begin to blister and pop (the peppers will be ready before the tomatoes.)
  4. Remove the charred vegetables from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the stems from the Poblano peppers, tear in half and wipe out as many seeds as you can (don’t make yourself crazy trying to get them all.)
  5. Add all the vegetables, fresh cilantro, salt and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but the salsa is still chunky. Stir in the diced onion and allow to chill before serving. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

in a watermelon jam

My kids consume a tremendous amount of fresh fruit. Believe me I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. (The joke in our house is that if you go to the grocery store you better come home with a gallon of milk and some sort of fruit!) The other day the three of us went to a local produce market and loaded up on pineapple, pears, peaches, plums and a watermelon. Enough fruit to keep the average child busy for some time, but mine are not your average children. In no time our fruit bowl was once again beginning to look bare, although the watermelon remained untouched in our second refrigerator. The next time I went to the grocery store grapes and bananas happened to be on sale, so naturally I picked a few up. Then we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and day off from school to do a little apple picking— 18 lbs. of gala apples later we headed home. It was apple mania, the kids talked about the applesauce and apple pies they hoped to make and ate at least a dozen apples each over the next few days. And still that poor watermelon sat in the fridge, lonely and unwanted. As they slowly emerged from their apple stupor the weather just happened to get hot again. “Perfect Indian summer watermelon enjoying weather,” I thought and offered one final time to slice it up for them. I was once again waved off. So, as any no-nonsense mother will do, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Over the summer while researching what ultimately became my grilled shrimp and watermelon salad I had stumbled upon a recipe for watermelon jelly. I have to tell you, I’ve never considered watermelon as the ideal jelly ingredient but, since I’m relatively new to the whole jelly/jam making process I assumed the cookbook author knew better than I. The fact that the recipe called for Pomona’s Universal Pectin, the type of low-sugar pectin I’ve used in the past, clinched the deal. Of course I took a few liberties with the recipe; namely leaving in the pulp which essentially changed the results from a watermelon jelly to a watermelon jam.

The jam was delicious, not too sweet with a delicate watermelon flavor. In my opinion this is the type of jam that you serve as part of a cheese plate or with a dollop of goat cheese on a cracker. My children however liked it on their morning toast and as the “j” in their pb&j’s. “Okay”, I said “Knock yourselves out”… who am I after all to argue with theses fruit aficionados?

Watermelon Jam
This is more of a refrigerator jam and not a properly “canned” jam. You certainly can put the jars in a water bath and seal them for shelf storage, I however chose not to.

watermelon jam5

5 cups watermelon puree (about half of a medium watermelon)
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. Pomona pectin
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup key lime juice
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. calcium water
glass canning jars

  1. Wash and set aside glass canning jars, their rings and lids. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Working in batches, puree the watermelon chunks in a blender. In a high sided sauce pan, bring the puree to a boil and add the lime juice and calcium water. Bring back to a boil.
  3. Slowly add the pectin/sugar mixture, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar and return to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat and let it sit for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Carefully fill the prepared jars with the hot jam. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature on the counter before refrigerating. The jam will keep for several weeks.

(This recipe makes roughly three pints of jam.)

*adapted from put ’em up!

beet greens + augustus gloop

As much as I love beets and as often as I buy them, I’ve never done anything with the greens except add them to my backyard composter. I knew they could be eaten, I just never bothered to give them a try. All that changed last week. I bought two big beautiful bunches of purple beets and the greens were so vivid and so crisp that I just couldn’t bear to throw them away.

I eat a green salad nearly everyday; most often spinach, kale or arugula; so I figured why not beet greens. Why not indeed! It turns out that beet greens are the perfect vehicle for a simple chopped salad. They’re kinda bitter and a little tough, but if you lightly dress them and let them sit for a bit they become supple and delicious. “What,” you may be asking yourself, “would be the perfect dressing for this simple salad?” Well I’m glad you asked…I just happen to have the most amazingly delicious Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing recipe to share with you.

In my mind the combination of peanut, garlic, ginger and soy sauce (with a little chipotle kick thrown in for good measure) is the perfect blend of flavors. It’s the stuff my food dreams are made of and it’s really what makes this chopped beet green salad so good. As it turns out this dressing doesn’t just make the salad, it also makes the perfect sauce to drizzle on some cold soba noodles or a delicious dipping sauce for grilled shrimp. It’s a multi-purpose, delicious on everything, symphony of flavors that I could literally eat with a spoon. In fact if I could swim in a pool of this dressing (a la Augustus Gloop lapping up chocolate from the Wonka river) I think I would. It wouldn’t be pretty to witness, but man would it be delicious. So anyway, even if you’d never in your wildest dreams consider eating a beet green salad (although you really should), give this dressing a try— it totally rocks!

Chopped Beet Green Salad with Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing
This salad is delicious with any mix of sturdy greens, but it’s the dressing that really steals the show. Yum!

beet.green.salad

1 bunch of beet greens, washed
3 1/2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. blue agave nectar
2 tbsp. water
1 1/2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 1/2 tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
2 cloves fresh garlic, grated
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

  1. Add all the dressing ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth and all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Set aside.
  2. Wash and remove the stems from each beet leaf. Slice diagonally into thin strips and place in a bowl.
  3. Spoon a few spoonfuls of dressing over the julienned greens and toss. Add additional dressing until the greens are nicely covered but not soggy.
  4. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving (This will allow to greens to absorb some of the dressing and soften up a bit.)
  5. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve. Store remaining dressing in a glass jar in the fridge and drizzle with reckless abandon.

lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats

life altering hummus

When my son was little he was a real picky eater. The first solid food he ever ate was avocado and he loved it; but then along came toddler free will and out the window went adventurous eating. Most of his likes and dislikes were based solely on the appearance rather than taste, it used to drive me crazy! Night’s when he actually ate what the rest of the family did felt like a huge victory to me. Uggh, mealtimes those first few years were not fun!

Refusing to be undone by this kids’ unfounded rejection of perfectly delicious food, I started experimenting with a little mom sleight of hand. I looked for any way to make the “kid food” he was willing to eat healthier. Carrots and celery puréed into the red sauce I used on pizza, homemade fish sticks and chicken tenders, black beans added to brownies (not a big hit) and hummus as a dipper for crackers and pretzels. Yup you read right, good ol’ garlicky hummus. My picky guy wouldn’t touch a perfectly non-threatening string bean, an innocuous burger or a simple bowl of soup; but he would eat hummus like it was going out of style. Hummus sandwiches, hummus on pretzels, hummus with his chicken tenders… and I can’t even tell you how often he sat down with a big bowl of hummus and a spoon. People thought I was crazy, but he loved it! And I loved that he was eating something full of protein, loaded with heart-healthy garlic (during his hummus years he never had a mosquito bite!) and more exotic than mac n’ cheese or pb&j. Needless to say I quickly developed a hummus recipe of my own and could whip up a batch in flash.

Thankfully he’s no longer a picky eater, but it didn’t happen overnight. He’ll now eat almost anything I put in front of him as long as it’s not spicy and is loaded with garlic. Yet hummus still plays a big role in our house. My daughter, who thankfully is far less suspicious of unfamiliar foods then he ever was, happens to be a hummus junkie as well. In fact just yesterday her lunch request was a bowl of hummus and some baby carrots. Ya gotta love it!

Who knew that a simple bowl of garlicky hummus in your formative years could turn into an enduring love of strong flavors and a willingness to try unfamiliar food. Seriously, who knew?!?

Homemade Hummus
You can adjust the amount of garlic in the recipe to your taste or slow roast it before hand to mellow out the flavor.

hummus4

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. tahini
3 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp. plain yogurt
1 tbsp. water
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

  1. Put everything in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth.
  2. Spoon into a serving dish, drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of smoked paprika. Serve with toasted pita chips and fresh vegetables, or a spoon.

pickled red onions

Last weekend I decided to drag out my crock pot and make a little pulled pork. I didn’t have a pulled pork recipe to follow, but what I did have was the recipe for those crazy good Pulled Turkey Tacos that I blogged about a while ago. I figured I could swap a pork loin for the turkey cutlets and serve it on rolls instead of soft taco shells. And so a pulled pork recipe was born.

The pulled pork turned out just as I had hoped; the meat was super tender, it had just the right amount of sauce and it was a touch spicy but not so much so that the kids declared it inedible. And one of the best things about having a crock pot full of pulled pork— there’s always plenty of leftovers for during the week! Not surprisingly I decided to serve the leftovers as soft taco filling, just as I had the pulled turkey. But while the turkey tacos were delicious with your standard issue cheese, lettuce, sour cream etc., I wanted to jazz my pulled pork tacos up a bit. How you may ask, well with pickled red onions of course! I already had it in my mind that I wanted to try pickling my own onions (I had tried to make cucumbers last summer and they ended in disaster), so now that pulled pork tacos were on the menu it seemed like perfect timing.

The onions were amazing! I added them to the pulled pork soft taco along with some aged cheddar and fresh cilantro and it seriously made a good taco into an extraordinary one.

Pickled Red Onions
These pickled onions are a fantastic addition to tacos, sandwiches and salads. They add a lovely bright and fresh crunch.

pickled onion in jar

1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced

  1. In a small saucepan stir together the vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Placed the sliced onion in a glass jar and pour the vinegar brine over it. Squish the onion down so that it is fully submerged in the brine, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.

*adapted from rachel ray/bobby flay

Criss-Cross Applesauce

I love Fall, it’s absolutely my favorite season. I love the beautiful blanket of falling leaves (it drives me crazy that here in Northern NJ everyone sweeps up their leaves the minute they hit the ground); I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the season smells. And there is no food that says Fall to me more perfectly than apples.

It seems like this time of year everyone you talk to has either just gone apple picking or has plans to. (Although truth be told, the Greco family prefers to apple pick mid-August in Vermont. Sorry N.J., but you really can’t compete.) Anyway, back to those apples. If you in fact do go apple picking then you’re probably like me and end up bringing home way more than you and your family can possibly eat out of hand. And seriously how many pies does any one person feel compelled to make? So to use up all those lovely fresh picked apples I make applesauce. In the past I would make it on the stove top and just let it cook until it was mushy and “done”. Then I discovered a Martha Stewart recipe for roasted applesauce. Hello delicious!

This is honestly some of the best applesauce I’ve ever tasted. It’s loaded with wonderful spices, takes less than an hour to make and freezes beautifully. My family likes to eat it in the morning with toast, at dinner alongside chicken or pork chops and warmed up with a bit of vanilla ice cream for dessert. I promise that after making this roasted version you’ll never bother with the stove top kind again.

Roasted Applesauce
Roasting the apples rather than cooking them on the stove really gives this applesauce a much more complex flavor.

1/4 cup water
4 tbsp. packed brown sugar
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
a big pinch of salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 lbs. apples (about 10-12)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel, core and cut apples into medium size chunks. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine water, sugar, lemon juice, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Stir until blended and sugar has dissolved.
  3. Pour sugar mixture over the apples and toss to coat well. Place apples in a large baking dish, cover tightly with foil and roast 40 minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly then mash apples with a fork. Adjust spices (if needed) and serve warm over vanilla ice cream, at room temperature, or freeze for a later date.

*adapted from martha stewart