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Thursday, December 5, 2019

All about cranberries

Did you have cranberries with your Thanksgiving feast? About twenty percent of all cranberries sold annually are purchased over the Thanksgiving holiday. That bright red berry is what the food industry calls a “special occasion food.”

This year, visiting my son, there was a fresh, homemade cranberry relish, brought by a friend, on the table—a bit tart but good. There was also canned, sliced, jellied cranberry sauce—both my daughters-in-law love it. Those two dishes spoke of what I see as two different food philosophies!

For me, cranberry relish at the holidays should be the way my mom fixed it—well, really it was my dad who made it. Making cranberry relish was a ritual in our household before the days of food processors. Dad hauled out the old hand grinder, fastened it to a short worn stepladder—I can see that chipped green paint in my mind yet—and began to grind, a chore he did because, he said, it took too much strength for Mom to do it. I think they both enjoyed the shared work.

Thanks to his effort, a bag of cranberries, washed and sorted, an orange, peel and all, a sweet apple like a Red Delicious, also unpeeled, went into a bowl. Mom added sugar sparingly, getting it just right because we didn’t want it too tart or too sweet. You can find precise recipesfor raw cranberry relish should you need them on the internet, I’d suggest you use less sugar than recommended and then taste, sweetening to your personal palate.

Some people use honey instead of sugar. Others add a small can of crushed pineapple or some chopped pecans. It’s a flexible dish, that cranberry relish.[

The thing about cranberries is that they are an overlooked health food, as good for you as blueberries. They are naturally low in sugar, though they require sweetening to be palatable; they are rich in antioxidants which promote cardiovascular health. Cranberry juice is often recommended for treatment of urinary tract infections.

When you think of cranberries at the holidays, you probably think of fresh berries—they only seem to appear in markets in November and December. Truth is only five percent of cranberries are sold fresh—most are processed into juice, that abominable canned relish, or craisins—those delightful substitutes for raisins which are great in everything from salads to oatmeal.

Thanks to a neighbor, I discovered a new cranberry recipe this past Thanksgiving. Easy and quick, it’s officially called crustless cranberry pie. To me, it’s like cake and great for dessert—but shh! Don’t tell. I’ve been eating cake for breakfast.

Crustless cranberry pie

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups cranberries

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I’m not always a fan of nuts, and I left them out)

½ cup butter, melted

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp. almond extract


Pre-heat oven to 350o. Grease 9-inch pie pan.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Stir in cranberries and nuts; toss to coat. Stir in butter, beaten eggs, and almond extract. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350o for 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

I hope your table was laden with whatever traditions you cherish,
and surrounded by people you really care about, 
and that together you gave thanks for all that we share.
Tomorrow is time enough to worry
Today we celebrate!

Christmas recipes next!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Nibbling before the Thanksgiving feast

The Thanksgiving menu is pretty standard—a few iconoclasts eschew turkey, but for most of us it’s turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and all the usual side dishes. But we can and do vary appetizers, and I’ve been talking appetizers with Jordan. She’s hosting her first big holiday meal—for Christian’s family—and I won’t be in town to help her. So we’ve been planning and going through old recipes (my idea of fun!).

To her delight, she found a recipe that was always her favorite. It requires Beau Monde seasoning, which is something I don’t usually keep and maybe you don’t either, but it should be in the supermarket. If not, it’s offered on Amazon. The big trick here is to find a round of bread, preferably pumpernickel.

Holiday dip in a bread bowl

1-1/3 cups sour cream

1-1/3 cups mayonnaise

1 tsp. dill weed

1 tsp. Beau Monde seasoning

2 Tbsp. parsley flakes

1 Tbsp. instant onion flakes

Loaf of round bread, preferably pumpernickel

Slice top off loaf of bread and hollow out, dicing removed bread into cubes for dipping. Keep bread cubes airtight until serving time.

Mix all other ingredients thoroughly and spoon into bread bowl. Chill.

Jordan also plans to make our traditional cheeseball.

Holiday Cheeseball

½ lb. Roquefort or domestic blue cheese

1 8 oz. pkg. Velveeta

l 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese

½ lb. pecans, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, chopped fine

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small onion, chopped fine   

½ tsp. horseradish

Let the cheese soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish, and half the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheeseball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers. Leftovers will keep a month in the freezer, and you can always reshape the bowl. Sometimes you may want to freshen the outside with more chopped parsley and pecans.

Happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Holiday cookies

Several years ago I lost a lot of books when the flat roof over my family room failed during an incredible rain- and hail-storm. The room was an add-on before I owned the house and was being re-roofed at the time. Most of my good-sized collection of cookbooks were among the books damaged beyond saving—they ranged from slim paperbacks to lovely coffee table books. Unbeknownst to me, Jordan had saved some and has had them in a cupboard in the house all this time. We got to talking about a dip she particularly liked, and I said I thought the recipe was in an old book that held several of my favorites.

To my great joy, she produced the book yesterday. It’s a much battered and worn scrapbook type thing, titled My Favorite Recipes, where I pasted in recipes that I’d collected from various places, many of them printed in the magazines and newspapers which were my favorite sources before the internet. But the greatest finds were some of my mom’s recipes—what she called Alice MacBain’s Bread, her yeast rolls that the kids still clamor for the holiday dinners, the cookies she made every Christmas. Mom signed her recipes GM for Grandmother or GW for Guess Who. In one instance, after GM, she added (not General Motors).

There are other old friends I was glad to see again—my grandmother’s banana drop cookies, which I used to make into cupcakes when my kids were little. I cannot tell you how many batches I made just to avoid throwing away two overaged bananas.  Mary Helen’s Mother’s Coffeecake is aa Bundt cake I’ve made so often I need no recipe, but I’d need directions for the green goddess dressing, which I remember as excellent, or the Gore Blimey Quiche—spinach, bacon, mushrooms and Parmesan. My chili recipe is here—another I now do automatically. Things I’ll probably never make again: Russian kasha, red beet eggs, Russian black bread. (If you see a bit of a trend there, yes, these were recipes chosen to please my ex-husband, who was of Russian descent or so he thought—they tell you how old this cookbook is!)

A recipe I’m glad to have provides simple directios for Krispie Orange Cookies, a holiday tradition when I was a child and then when I had children. They require cookies cutters, and I inherited Mom’s good, old-fashioned metal ones—so much easier and cleaner to use than today’s plastic versions. Mom had a Santa, in profile with a pack on his back, a Christmas tree, a bell, a donut-shaped one we made into wreaths, and an oversized gingerbread man. We decorated with white, red, and green icing, sprinkles, and silver shot. After Colin, my oldest, married, his wife took over the cookie-making, and I passed along the cutters. Colin likes these cookies soft, but I keep telling him they need to bake just a bit longer for crispness.

Krispie Orange Cookies

2 c. sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 orange, juice and rind

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3-1/2 c. four

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and beat. Add orange juice and the grated rind. Separately mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Carefully stir flour mixture into shortening mixture. Chill dough. Then roll out and use those cookie cutters.

Bake 10 minutes at 375o but watch carefully. They burn before you know it.

PS: We’re still looking for Jordan’s dip recipe—all I remember was you served it in a round pumpernickel bread bowl, and it had Beau Monde seasoning. It will show up here if we find it, but so will others from My Favorite Recipes.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hello chickpeas, goodbye Keurig

Chickpeas are something I never thought much about. They did not appear on the table in my childhood home, and somehow all these years cooking I didn’t run into them. But yesterday I planned to cook a New York Times recipe for Crispy Lamb Meatballs with Chickpeas and Eggplant. At first, I thought I’d just leave the chickpeas out, but a friend encouraged me to include them. So when I ordered groceries over the weekend, I ordered chickpeas, expecting canned. They were dried, and there began my education.

Dried chickpeas, like various dried beans, must be soaked before cooking. You can use that trick of adding a tsp. of baking soda to the water if you want, but the main thing is to soak them overnight in lots of water, because the expand a great deal during soaking. You can hurry the process up with an Insta-pot or pressure cooker, but I went for the old-fashioned method.

In the morning, I drained and rinsed them, covered generously with fresh cold water (at least two inches above the top of the peas) and brought it to a boil. Then instructions said simmer for one to two hours. I hate undercooked beans, so I went for two hours and discovered that with a lid slightly askew on the pot and the heat set at medium low, my hot plate holds a nice simmer. After two hours, they were cooked—and, to my surprise, tasty.

Then the day went awry (see my blog, and I ended up not making the dish. So there I was with a pound of cooked chickpeas. First thing I learned: they freeze beautifully. Second thing, there are lots of things to do with them—put them in the food processor with tahini and seasonings and make homemade hummus (so much better), scatter them in salad, put them in soups and stews, use them for a vegetarian curry, make fritters or patties out of them, use in place of tuna in a salad, put them in scrambled eggs. The internet is alive with recipes and suggestions.

My favorite: roast chickpeas for a snack instead of chips. Take a pound of cooked chickpeas (or canned) and toss with olive oil (1 tsp.—too much oil will make them soggy) and 1/4 tsp. of salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice—anything from chile powder to thyme and rosemary. For even coating, put the ingredients in a large baggie and shake well. Put them in a cold oven and roast at 425o for 20-30 minutes or until crisp. The chickpeas will lose their crispness as they cool, so serve them as soon as they cool enough to handle. Even after they lose their heat and soften, they’re still tasty.

Chickpeas are a staple for vegetarians and vegans for good reason. They’re plentiful, cheap, low fat, and full of nutrients—the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals we all need. Studies show they may help control blood pressure, improve digestion, and prevent anything from diabetes to cancer. On a diet? These are great because they give you a feeling of having eaten without adding calories.

As for the Keurig, I’ve been using it to brew my single cup of tea for years. In fact, I’m on my second machine. But my conscience has increasingly bothered me—K-cups contribute an enormous amount to our burgeoning landfills and are a disaster for the environment. Besides, I never ever took mine apart and cleaned it with a vinegar solution as you’re supposed to do at least every six months.

So when my Keurig bit the dust this week, making only an eighth of a cup each time, I sent it to Goodwill, where they will refurbish. I’m making my tea with an electric teakettle but still exploring various options. If I settle on the teakettle, I’ll get an infuser—no sense adding that daily teabag to my footprint. I tried to tell one of my daughters not to use a plastic straw, and she said dismissively, “What difference does one straw make?’ That’s just it—it’s not one straw but the millions (literally) that are discarded daily. I figure the same is true of tea bags.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Here's what's cooking at my house this week!

I admit to being a creature of habit. One of habits that has lasted for years is to plan meals ahead on Thursday and make out a grocery list, so that I can do the actual shopping on Friday. This schedule has the great advantage of leaving weekends free for cooking, reading, and whatever. So here are my ideas for cooking this week.

One night soon, just for me, shirred or baked egg. So easy, so good1

Baked egg

1 half slice good sourdough bread

A handful of baby spinach, cooked and drained

1 slice bacon, diced, cooked, and drained

2 Tbsp. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 large egg

1 tsp. cream or milk

Grease a small ramekin well. Toast sourdough and butter both sides. Shape toast into ramekin until it forms a lining in bottom of dish. Sauté bacon and drain, reserving a tsp. of grease to sauté the spinach. Cook spinach until just slightly wilted. Drain and cut into bite sizes pieces. Put spinach on toast; add cheese. Carefully break egg on top of cheese, being sure to keep the yolk whole. Add salt and pepper and pour cream or milk over egg to keep it from drying out.

Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes, until yolk is set but still runny. Before serving, top with bacon crumbles.

* * * *

For another night, a quick tomato sauce for pasta:

Quick and rich tomato sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. minced garlic

6 anchovy fillets

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or whole and chop them)

            Sauté garlic and anchovies in oil. Don’t skip or skimp on the anchovies. When they dissolve into the garlic and butter, you won’t taste fish or anything strong. They just add a nice, rich earthiness to your sauce.

Drain the tomatoes and save the juice for another purpose, like a pot of soup. Add tomatoes to pan, bring to a boil, and then cook on medium until sauce is slightly thick.

Should provide sauce for a pound of fettucine or spaghetti or four average servings.

* * * *

And for Sunday supper, an easy pork roast without an oven.

Pork roast without an oven

A colleague served this one night, and it was delicious. I didn’t believe him when he told me how he cooked it, so I tried it. Now it’s a family favorite, perfect for the tiny kitchen without an oven. And uses a cheap cut of meat. Can’t beat that.

2-1/2 lb. Boston butt roast, untrimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups water

2 Tbsp. salt

Ask the butcher to cube the roast for you, if you have access to a butcher. Their idea of cubes is usually pretty big chunks, but it’s a start. You just have to cube the cubes until you get something the size you want—about an inch

Bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the cubed meat and reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least an hour and a quarter, until all the water evaporates. The meat will look unappetizingly white, but cook it longer, stirring occasionally, and the cubes will develop a nice brown crust.

Serve with sauce below and lime wedges.

Garlic sauce:

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

2 garlic cloves, pressed.

Salt and pepper—go easy on the salt, as the meat cooked in salted water, but I suggest at least a half tsp. pepper

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Spam—more than you ever wanted to know

I did it! I bought a can of Spam. I’ve been wanting to try it again for some time. Bought a can a while back and ended up putting it in the church canned goods drive. But this time I ate it.

You see, Spam is a childhood memory for me, a good one. I was a kid during WWII and Spam appeared on our table frequently, although I think for breakfast and lunch but rarely if ever dinner. Introduced in 1937, this canned pork product was developed to meet the difficulty of getting fresh meat to servicemen, but it was also served in a lot of households. It was cheap, and it had a long shelf life.

The name? Spam is a Hormel Food, and the company won’t tell, claiming only a handful of executives know the secret. Best guess? It is an abbreviation of spiced ham. Monty Python adapted the name in a skit about unsolicited electronic messages—and it stuck. Hearing the word spam today, most people think first of the email term and not the food product.

During WWII, military personnel joking called it mystery meat or meatloaf without basic training or ham that didn’t pass the physical. It was most frequently served in the Pacific theater and remains popular throughout the region, specifically in Hawaii where it is the basis for a treat known as musubi—marinated and fried slices placed on rice and wrapped with dried seaweed.  On Oahu, chefs compete with new and original recipes at an annual Spam Festival. In the Philippines, where it is a sought-after delicacy, Spam is often eaten with garlic fried rice and sunny-side-up eggs—a breakfast dish. Statistics show that the average person in Guam eats sixteen cans a year; it’s even sold at McDonald’s on that island. And surprise! It’s available in England, where they deep fry it or make hash with it for breakfast. Actually, in  2003 Spam was sold in forty-one countries and trademarked in over a hundred.

Spam hasn’t fared so well in this country. By the 1970s consumers were dismissing it because of the high fat content and its tendency to form gelatin during the cooking process. It is also high in cholesterol and sodium and is considered by many a poverty food. Probably more people eat it than you think—they may not all admit it. Spam is produced to this day in Austin, Minnesota, home of the Spam Museum and the National Spam Recipe Competition. (Austin, Texas has a tongue-in-cheek cookoff called Spamorama tied to April Fool’s Day.)

The Web site offers an array of flavors—turkey, pumpkin spice (everything is pumpkin spice this time of year!), lite, low sodium, bacon, hickory smoked, jalapeño, chorizo, black pepper, teriyaki, Portuguese sausage, garlic, and torcino (or Spanish bacon). You can
Spam fries
also find recipes on the Web site: mac and cheese, tacos, fried rice, Spam fries, hash, Spam with Ramen noodles, asparagus roll-ups, Spamburgers, a breakfast skillet, a sandwich special, a Hawaiian pizza (with pineapple), and katsu—a Japanese fried version served with mustard, cheese, pickle, and okonomiyaki sauce.

My mom didn’t go in for any such fancy recipes. She often took an unsliced can of Spam, scored it like a ham, topped it with brown sugar and cloves, and baked it. Alternatively, she fried slices.

So what about my taste test? I ate it sliced, at room temperature, and found the texture fine, the flavor vaguely like a mild ham. It was not gelatinous, but it was too salty.

Will I buy it again? Probably not. Would I be polite and eat it, if served to me in someone’s home? Of course. Would I eat it if desperately hungry? You bet!