Archive for the ‘Holiday Foods’ Category

Crazy for Cranberries

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

I recently taught a class on Thanksgiving pies at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton, Massachusetts. Naturally, I had to feature cranberries in at least one pie.

Every year in September I begin calling grocery stores to ask whether cranberries have arrived. Once they do appear on shelves, I go crazy for cranberries. I make sauce. I make pies and tarts. I freeze the berries. I revel in redness.

Cranberries have a lot to recommend them. They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. New England sailors used to consume them on sea journeys to avoid scurvy. They abound with flavor (albeit flavor that needs a little sweetening!).

And they are simply gorgeous. I view them as the rubies of the Thanksgiving table.

Unlike many other popular fruits, the American cranberry is native to our continent. Native Americans combined ground cranberries with venison to make pemmican, a portable high-energy food.

When English settlers arrived on these shores, they quickly adopted the berries as their own, not just to eat but as medicine. They learned from the original Americans to apply ground cranberries to wounds to keep them from getting infected.

My friend Kathleen Wall, colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation, believes that cranberries might have appeared on the table at the first Thanksgiving. She emphatically denies that cranberry sauce was present. It hadn’t yet been invented.

Food writer Hank Shaw dates the first written reference to cranberry sauce to 1808. The increasing popularity of that sauce probably owed a lot to the new availability of reasonably priced sugar in the 19th century. Historian Clifford Foust notes:

“By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Caribbean sugar had declined in price so far over the preceding century that its consumption had risen enormously….

“Sugar in its several forms made possible the widespread use and enjoyment of formerly shunned fruits and vegetables whose sour tastes were too disagreeable for ordinary use, no matter how healthful they may have been. Sugar also contributed to their preservation in glass or tins….”

In 1912, Marcus Urann, a lawyer turned cranberry grower, decided to try canning cranberry sauce. This innovation boosted cranberry cultivation in New England. In my opinion, however, it represented a step backward in cranberry cuisine.

I blush to admit that my cousin Alan, who often hosts Thanksgiving for our clan, insists on serving canned cranberry sauce. The ridges from the can take him back to his mother’s kitchen. (She was a lovely woman but not much of a cook.)

I always bring homemade sauce to his house and defiantly place it on the table alongside the canned version. Canned sauce lacks the color and flavor that define cranberries to me.

Making basic cranberry sauce couldn’t be easier—and it can be done well in advance of Thanksgiving dinner. I usually just follow the directions on commercial bags of cranberries, although I sometimes add flavorful items like orange or cinnamon.

Below I share a recipe that uses a variant on that sauce, made with chipotles. My cranberry chipotle spread may be served with meat, crackers, or apples. It may also be used to stuff celery. This gorgeous pink substance packs just a little heat.

I will be making it, along with my cranberry-apple crumb pie, this Wednesday, November 22, on Mass Appeal. I’m publishing the recipe in advance in case readers want to make it for Thanksgiving. I’ll post a link to the video after it airs.

Meanwhile, I hope you all enjoy feasting and giving thanks this Thursday. I know I will! I offer thanks to all of you for reading.

Cranberry Chipotle Spread

Ingredients:

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 cups (12 ounces) cranberries
2 to 3 chipotles in adobo from a can (plus a little of the adobo sauce), chopped
1 8-ounce brick cream cheese at room temperature
a few chopped pecans, toasted or candied

Instructions:

Begin early in the day, or even a day ahead. In a saucepan combine the water and the sugar and bring them to a boil. Add the cranberries and the chipotles, and return the mixture to the boil.

Reduce the heat, and boil until the cranberries pop, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the sauce seems too fuzzy, add a tiny amount of butter.)

Remove the mixture from the heat, cool it to room temperature, and then puree the sauce in a blender. Refrigerate it until it is needed.

When you are ready to make your spread, whip the cream cheese using an electric mixer. Beat in some of the chipotle-flavored cranberry sauce to taste. (Start with 1/2 cup and see how you like it.) If you want your spread to taste more of chipotle, stir in more of the adobo sauce.

Refrigerate until ready to use. You will have extra sauce which you can use for more spread or serve on the side of meat or poultry.

Sprinkle the pecans on the spread just before serving. Serves 6.

“Mass Appeal” co-host Danny New and I had fun getting ready for Thanksgiving.

A Belated (but fun!) Halloween

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

I don’t get trick or treaters here in the wilds of western Massachusetts, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying Halloween this year. My house was festooned with my favorite fall decorations on Tuesday. Cocoa the dog reluctantly donned her turtle costume. And I made Halloween treats with my friends on the show Mass Appeal.

Actually, the first recipe we prepared wasn’t a treat; it was a hearty soup I recommend for Halloween night (or any other fall evening). Pam’s Country Ham and Potato Soup (the recipe is here; I shared it a few years ago) is so warming and delicious I don’t want dessert after dining on it.

I did feel the need to feature a treat on the air as well, however, so we made festive sweets from the recipe box of one of my area’s best bakers, Paula Rice of Charlemont. In plastic wrap or a sandwich bag, they’re an ideal hand out for trick-or-treaters. They’re also tasty all fall long. (Paula reports that she hasn’t made them yet this year, but she’s going to!)

The recipe below is Paula’s. Instead of her filling, I used my traditional cream-cheese frosting. Either way, the pies are welcomed by adults and children. They taste like pumpkin, spice, and fall.

Paula’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Ingredients:

for the cookies:

1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I use Canola)
2 eggs
1-3/4 to 2 cups pumpkin puree (freshly cooked and mashed, or a 15-ounce can)
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour

for the filling:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the cookies: Combine the sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin, and spices in a large bowl, mixing well. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and vanilla, mixing well. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Lightly grease baking sheets or line them with parchment or silicone. Drop rounded 2-tablespoon portions of dough onto the sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are firm. (A slight indentation where your finger tests them is allowable.)

Cool the cookies completely; then get ready to fill.

Beat together the filling ingredients, and spread them between whoopie layers. If you’re NOT handing these out to children in bags, feel free to decorate the tops as well.

This recipe makes about 20 filled pies. If you wish, you may make your whoopie pies bigger or smaller than indicated. (Paula likes small ones.)

If you make them bigger, you may have to cook them a little longer; smaller, a little less time.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Pam’s Country Ham and Potato Soup on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Paula’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies on Mass Appeal

Even More Apples

Friday, October 20th, 2017

The weather outside is getting nippy in Massachusetts—but I’m keeping the house warm with food and laughter. It’s still apple month so I have stocked up on crisp, local apples and sweet cider.

I love the variety of apples available at my local orchards. Last week at Clarkdale Fruit Farms I sampled a new (to me) apple, the Esopus Spitzenburg. I first fell in love with the name—and then with the flavor.

This heirloom variety was one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apples, according to apple grower Ben Clark. Our third president did have good taste.

The Monticello website quotes A.J. Downing, whom it dubs “America’s foremost nineteenth century pomologist” (another great term) on this apple. Downing called the Esopus Spitzenburg “a handsome, truly delicious apple … unsurpassed as a dessert fruit” and considered it “the first of apples.”

I have a lot of apples in the house—but next time I go to Clarkdale I’m going to pick up a bag of Mr. Jefferson’s apples. I have a feeling they would be great for cooking as well as eating.

Meanwhile, on Mass Appeal this week I cooked with what I had in the house: cider and honey-crisp apples.

Franklin County’s annual Cider Days are on the horizon so I made a pot roast with sweet cider.

In cool weather my mind frequently turns to pot roast. I have written before about my go-to pot roast, but this version is also appealing, simultaneously sweet and savory.

After the pot roast, I looked ahead to my favorite holiday, Halloween, with caramel apples festooned with chocolate and other goodies. King Arthur Flour generously sent me both caramel and chocolate. I invited small neighbors over to pre-test the apple recipe below, and they were hugely enthusiastic. So were the youthful hosts on Mass Appeal.

The video below doesn’t show Danny New dumping nuts and sprinkles on our apples (he dumped after the cameras were turned off), but those embellishments are a fun part of any apple decoration.

My Facebook friend Nancy gently admonished me for giving the small neighbors chocolate and sprinkles rather than just nuts—but they made that decision themselves. The nuts, although delicious, are a more adult garnish. 

Whether you’re a sprinkle person or a nut person, do try these recipes. Happy apple month!

Cider Pot Roast

Feel free to add more liquid and spices if you like lots of juice in your pot roast—and maybe to add carrots after the first hour of cooking. Carrots are in season right now, and they complement the other flavors in this dish nicely.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups cider
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 whole cloves
1 3-to-4-pound pot roast
flour as needed
canola oil as needed

Instructions:

Combine the cider, the sugar, the salt, the cinnamon, the ginger, and the cloves. Pour this marinade over the beef, and let it stand, covered, in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Turn and baste from time to time. Remove the roast from the marinade; sprinkle it with flour.

Heat the oil, and brown the meat in it in a pot or Dutch oven. Lower the heat, add the marinade, and cover tightly. Simmer for 3 hours. After the first hour, be sure to turn the roast every half hour or so, and to add more cider if the meat looks a bit dry. When ready to serve, thicken the gravy with flour if desired. Serve with noodles. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 

Caramel Apples Plus

Ingredients:

3/4 pound caramel (or as much as you like) in block form
1/3 pound milk chocolate, cut up
1/3 pound white chocolate, cut up
4 medium apples
festive seasonal sprinkles, chopped nuts, or any other topping you like (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 200, and bring water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. Place the caramel in the top of the double boiler, and place the milk chocolate and white chocolate in oven-proof bowls.

If your caramel needs it (the package should tell you), add a little water to it. Melt the caramel in the double boiler over low heat, stirring occasionally. While it is melting put sticks in the cores of the apples.

When the caramel has melted, place the bowls of chocolate in the oven. Dip the apples in the caramel, gently swirling to cover them. Place the dipped apples on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Take the chocolates out of the oven, and stir to confirm that they have melted. (Melting them takes 10 to 15 minutes in the oven.) Use a spoon to drizzle the chocolate over the apples.

If you wish for extra bling, throw a few sprinkles or nuts on top of the apples before the chocolate hardens. Then wait for it to harden before digging in. (Waiting is the hard part!) Makes 4 delicious apples. These are best consumed cut into segments.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Cider Pot Roast on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Caramel Apples Plus on Mass Appeal

Strawberry Cream-Cheese Tart

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

I know I just posted here a few days ago. I hope you’re not getting sick of me! I thought readers might like to make this festive tart for the Fourth of July, however.

The recipe has a number of steps so technically it takes a lot of time. Most of the time is spent waiting for portions of the tart to cool, however, so it’s not hard. The only thing you have to bake is the crust—and that can be done early in the morning or late at night so you won’t heat up the house too much in this warm season.

And the tart is a definite showstopper. I tend to make it the day before I serve it.

Yes, you may use a store-bought pie crust, but this one isn’t hard. You may also use lemon juice instead of key lime.

As I point out in the video below, if you want to be particularly patriotic, you may put a few blueberries on top of the tart.

Happy Independence Day!

The Tart

Ingredients:

for the tart shell:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1-1/3 cups flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the filling:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup key-lime juice

for the topping:

2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons key-lime juice
4 tablespoons cold water
3-1/2 cups halved strawberries, divided

Instructions:

Begin with the crust. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and the sugar until they are just blended. Add the flour and the salt, and stir until the mixture seems crumbly. (It will be dry.)

In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the vanilla; drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture. Combine until the flour mixture is evenly moist; it will still be crumbly.

Grease a 9-inch tart pan. (You may use an 8-inch pie pan if you’d rather, but the tart is just beautiful.) Place the dough in the pan. Press it evenly over the bottom and up the sides of pan. Prick the bottom of the crust a bit to keep it from puffing up too much.

Put the crust in the freezer, uncovered, for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool it completely before filling it.

To make the filling beat the cream cheese until it is soft and smooth; then beat in the condensed milk and the key-lime juice. Spoon this mixture over the cooled crust, and refrigerate for several hours before proceeding.

Finally, make the topping. In a heavy saucepan whisk together the cornstarch, the sugar, and the salt. Slowly whisk in the liquids. In a bowl, mash 1-1/2 cups of the berries. Add them to the cornstarch mixture. Let the mixture sit in the saucepan for 1 hour to juice up.

At the end of the hour bring the berry mixture to a boil, and boil it for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove it from the heat and let it sit until it reaches room temperature. Stir in the remaining uncooked berries.

Spoon the topping over the tart filling. Refrigerate the tart until you are ready to serve it. Garnish with additional strawberries and mint leaves if you wish. Serves 8.

And now the video….

Tinky Makes Strawberry Cream-Cheese Tart on Mass Appeal

Laurie Neely’s Holiday Cookies

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie's husband Ray)

Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie’s husband Ray)

Laurie Neely of Orange, Massachusetts, has been baking holiday cookies since the day after Thanksgiving. By Christmas Day, she will have turned out hundreds. “There will generally be in excess of a dozen kinds [of cookies] and many dozens of each,” she told me in a recent interview.

An artist, writer, and animal lover, Laurie started baking seriously in the 1960s as a stay-at-home mother. The Christmas-cookie tradition began with a family recipe from her first husband, who is still a good friend.

Laurie has added recipes from friends, relatives, newspapers, and the internet to her repertoire over the years, adapting them to her taste.

Many of these holiday treats—including her pfeffernüsse cookies and the German molded cookies called springerle—need to age in order to achieve optimal flavor and consistency. Her gingersnaps take about three weeks to mature.

Laurie carved her own springerle molds years ago and sees cookie baking as deeply creative. “I was a potter for some time,” she explained, “and for me baking and pottery are just parts of the same…. I think the idea of creating art with your hands that people then eat is perfect.”

I asked where all the cookies go. Laurie replied that she mails batches to relatives around the country. After that, the cookies go to “family and friends and neighbors and anybody who leaves their car window down.”

“And my husband Ray is, like, ‘Don’t give them all away!’” she added.

Her family celebrates the season on Christmas Eve with a festive brunch that includes many, many cookies, she said. Her adult son is Jewish so this year the feast will include latkes for Hanukkah; that holiday begins on Christmas Eve.

When we spoke Laurie was baking a new-to-her recipe, wine cookies flavored with anise. The recipe came from her friend Gail and before that from Gail’s mother Mary and grandmother Emilia.

“Mary was an outstanding cook, and I am honored to use not only many of her recipes, but her KitchenAid mixer and quite a few other kitchen items as well,” said Laurie.

“This recipe is one I photographed from a well used card after Mary passed and we were sorting out and sharing her recipe file among family members.”

The photograph of the recipe resides in a special plastic bag Laurie treasures. Each year after Thanksgiving she reaches into the bag for the tattered, food-stained recipes that constitute her evolving Christmas-cookie tradition.

“I really do need to sit down—not at this time of year—and put [the recipes] in a database so when these scraps of paper finally die I have them,” she confessed. “But….”

Her advice to novice bakers is to buy quality ingredients; to use good pans (she relies on silicone mats for her cookie baking and favors insulated cookie sheets); and above all to relax, have fun, and be flexible with recipes.

“You need to stay with the basics. Your ratios of flour, shortening, and liquid are going to be crucial. But then you sort of play. The creativity makes for some pretty good cookies,” she suggested.

Laurie Neely loves the Christmas season and doesn’t plan to stop baking anytime soon.

“Advent has many associations for people,” she mused. “In some homes there are calendars with little paper doors to open heralding the coming Christmas, and in our churches there are wreaths to mark the Sundays as they pass. But in my house Advent has a scent: it smells like cookies.”

Here are two cookie recipes from Laurie’s kitchen. I don’t have anise seeds in the house (and I’d have to order them specially) so I’m holding off on the wine cookies until next Christmas. The gingersnaps are aging in a tin as I write, however.

I got a late start on my baking so they won’t be ready to eat in time for Christmas—but a cookie might taste pretty good in the new year!

Happy/merry to all….

sbuse

Mama’s Cookies with White Wine

Laurie Neely decided, “I may add a drop of anise oil or extract in the next batch [of these cookies]….They are light, mildly anise flavored, sweet, and just a little biscuity, leading me to think they will age well.

“So many of the Italian cookies improve when they age and harden and become great coffee accompaniments.”

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon shortening (Laurie used Earth Balance brand)
1 teaspoon anise seeds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup semi-sweet white wine (Laurie used a Riesling)
3-1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
equal portions of cinnamon and sugar as needed, combined

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl combine the sugar and the shortening. Stir in the anise seeds, the oil, and the wine. In a separate bowl combine the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture a little at a time until the combination achieves the consistency of not-too-firm pie-crust dough.

Shape the cookies by forming heaping tablespoons of the dough into logs in the palm of your (mostly closed) hand. Dip the tops of the cookies in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and place the logs on greased cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies until they are a deep golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes about 3-1/2 dozen cookies.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie Neely’s Gingersnaps

Laurie has adapted this recipe over the years, adding more and more ginger to achieve just the right flavor.

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (generous)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup molasses

Instructions:

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the molasses. Bring this mixture to a boil; then let it cool. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Chill the resulting dough for a couple of hours; then preheat the oven to 375 degrees and roll the dough out on a floured board until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a floured biscuit cutter or floured seasonal cookie cutters.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes. The yield depends on the shapes you use to cut them out; Laurie Neely usually gets 3 to 4 dozen cookies from this recipe. Store the cookies in a tin for at least three weeks before serving them.

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I'm not the world's greatest cookie cutter?

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I’m not the world’s greatest cookie cutter?