Alternative Cranberry Sauce

 

There is an annual Thanksgiving potluck at my work. Last year, I was completely overwhelmed (with work) and I think I forgot to sign up to bring anything at all, and so the weekend before I picked up some cranberry sauce at Whole Foods. I’m pretty sure few people ate it.

This year, the potluck was the Monday before Thanksgiving. I again forgot to sign up until too late. I wanted to bring sweet potato casserole, but a colleague had signed up for that before me (which, frankly, was probably better, because she used more butter and sugar than I would have, and it was delicious). No one had signed up for cranberry sauce yet, so I chose to bring that again.

The weekend after signing up, I went to my annual Baltimore Delta Gamma alumni Thanksgiving potluck where a fellow DG brought the best homemade cranberry sauce I’d ever tasted. I probably thought so because I’ve never loved cranberry sauce – too sweet – and this stuff was unusual and more savory. I think she was nervous to bring it, because it really is a little untraditional. I felt similarly about my own potluck, but since I didn’t think anyone had eaten the traditional stuff I brought last year, I figured it was low risk either way.

The most striking thing is that it’s made with mustard seeds. A few colleagues did ask me what ‘those things are’, and when I told them, they kind of just went, ‘huh.’ Most of my colleagues told me they thought it was good.  And, unlike last year, most of it got eaten, so I think that says something.

My DG sister has the recipe on her own blog here: Cranberry Quince Mustarda Recipe. I used an apple instead of quince, a tiny bit of dry vermouth and 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar (together) instead of the one cup of dry white wine (I didn’t have any in the house), and I used only about 11 oz. of raisins instead of the 1.5 lbs called for – and I added about 8 oz. of them with the cranberries instead of at the end. Oh and I used dijon mustard instead of the dry mustard. I think the mustard seeds were more prominent in mine than I remember in my friend’s, and I’d probably cut back on them if I made it again. However, I still thought it was tasty, and it’s definitely a recipe I’ll keep for future potlucks and for if/when I ever host Thanksgiving again.

The next morning, when I brought this to work, the mustard seeds had all soaked up the cranberry color and were no longer yellow.

Not all of the sauce was eaten at work, though most of it was. I brought the leftover home and had a bite the next morning, and I will say that it tasted a little vinegary. I’m not sure if it gets more like that with time or if it was always like that…

 

 

 

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Pumpkin Puree

Making pumpkin puree has become an annual tradition for me, one that I use to celebrate the arrival of Fall. This year, I made it on October 4th, which was maybe a little early. It was officially Fall, but the weather was still pretty summery, and I had a little trouble finding the small pumpkins I wanted. However, it was also a rare weekend in town, and making pumpkin puree is an all-day event. I was only in town because Hurricane Patricia rolled through and messed up my weekend plans, and I thought I should seize the opportunity.

This tradition started in October 2012, which was the month Dan and I got married. We decorated the head table at our wedding with sugar pumpkins, and after the festivities were over, I decided to turn them all into puree. I froze the bounty and had delicious, homemade pumpkin puree that lasted me through Winter.

Atlanta Wedding Photographer | Jo Arellanes for LeahAndMark.com
Atlanta Wedding Photographer | Jo Arellanes for LeahAndMark.com

You can only sort of see the pumpkins in the photo above. It’s the only one I could find that even kind of shows them.

Anyway, I used then and continue to use The Pioneer Woman’s homemade pumpkin puree recipe. (Aside: I recently learned that The Pioneer Woman has a TV show, and I saw part of an episode while on a cross-country flight. Who knew. She wasn’t what I expected. Sweeter in person; more sarcastic in blog form. The opposite is probably true of me.)

This year, I bought six pumpkins, knowing that each additional pumpkin means that much more work, but also that much more pumpkin puree. The first step is to cut the tops off. One of the six proved much too hard to cut off. I swear it was like plastic. I also made Dan try. The knife simply did not cut into the flesh at all. So I put that pumpkin out on the front steps for decoration, and proceeded to use only five pumpkins. A week later, someone had smashed the poor pumpkin in the street. Whoever did it must have been much stronger than Dan or me.

The whole process took maybe five hours. And made me realize that the 30-year old food processor that my mom gave me is not as effective as my cheap immersion blender, so… I think it’s gonna go.

I now have pumpkin puree galore! From the picture above, it looks like I filled 8 quart-size bags. I’m not sure if each has a quart, though. I used a 1-cup measuring cup to scoop the puree into each bag, and only did two (albeit, overflowing) scoops into each bag.

While making the puree, I also roasted the seeds (somewhat following this recipe from Oh She Glows and adding Penzey’s Cajun seasoning). That night, I made some really delicious  pumpkin chili. Like, really delicious. Dan thought it was fantastic. Unfortunately, as I so often do (especially with soups and stews), I didn’t follow any specific recipe or document what I did. Just now, I Googled pumpkin chili to try and find a few that I could recommend, but you can do the  Googling just as well as I, and I don’t really know what to recommend. I’m sure it involved at least:

  • onion
  • beans (kidney, black, pinto probably/maybe)
  • maybe a final jalapeño from my rooftop pots
  • maybe bell pepper
  • pumpkin puree obviously
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • diced tomatoes

Anyway, it was good. And spicy!

I have since made pumpkin chili twice. Once was adapted from this Serious Eats turkey pumpkin chili recipe. It was good, but not as good as that first night. The second one was adapted from this recipe for easy slow cooker southwester 2 bean chicken from the gracious pantry (which my friend, Emily, shared with me over a year ago). Heavily adapted: I started with but did not fully use a slow cooker, I added onions, I only used a tiny bit of salsa (and only because I felt like I needed something to add a little more flavor at the end, and I don’t even know if it achieved it – I then added chili powder), I used three types of beans, and I added pumpkin, obvi. So. Anyway. Also good, but not as good. I’ll eat the last two servings of that batch this week for lunch – I only need two lunches this week because it’s a holiday week, so no salad jars this week.

In October, I also used some of the pumpkin to make Running on Veggies’pumpkin cranberry oat muffins, which were an attempt to use the pumpkin in a non-chili recipe, while also reintroducing some grains (which I’d been avoiding for months) but remaining mostly gluten-free. I thought they were tasty, but they didn’t really rise like muffins should, and I’m pretty sure that people enjoying non-gluten-free muffins wouldn’t choose these over those.

This past Friday night, I also made hamburgers with pumpkin puree, using Civilized Caveman’s recipe (without the honey drizzle). They were really good. I think it might have been the pumpkin pie spice more than the pumpkin puree, but who knows.

I’m not sure how else I’ll use the pumpkin this year. In years past, I’ve used it to make homemade pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, but since I’m still not really eating sugar and bread, I probably won’t be doing that. Regardless, I’m pretty sure that whatever I do with it will be delicious, because, pumpkin puree.

 

Shrubs

In May, I went to Cape Cod for a week with Dan’s family. We stayed in a charming house in Wellfleet, just down the street from Lola’s Local Food Lab, a very small store beneath the Lighthouse Restaurant that sold spices and shrubs and blueberry muffins. I had been introduced to the idea of vinegar drinks in the book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, but I’d never heard of ‘shrubs,’ which are more like vinegar fruit syrups that can be added to drinks (or used in other ways). The proprietor let us try the shrubs, and I ended up purchasing one for me and one as a thank you for my friend who was watching our cat for the week. I used mine up very quickly, adding it to my SodaStream water, and by early August was looking for recipes to make my own.

I referenced a few different websites for guidance, but probably relied most heavily on this one from Serious Eats. I used the cold process recipe.

I made two different types of shrubs – a peachy one and a blackberry one.

For the first, I used:

  • 8 peaches, peeled and pitted, cut into inch-ish size pieces
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups of vinegar, consisting of
    • 1 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

For the second, I used:

  • 12 oz. blackberries
  • maybe 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup of vinegar, consisting of
    • just over 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    • just under 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar

It was really easy. The worst/most time-consuming part was probably peeling the peaches. I hate peeling anything and opt not to do it if at all reasonable. But for my first attempt at shrubs, I decided to stay as close to the guidance as possible. I might consider not peeling the fruit if I make shrubs again. I’d also be interested in options to reduce or not use the added sugar, although I recognize the role the sugar plays in drawing out the fruit’s juice. (For the most part, I stopped eating added sugar on June 1 – the shrubs were one of the few departures from that over the past several months.)

Anyway, they were super-tasty. It’s now almost the end of November, and I just finished them both last week. I used them mostly in soda water, but also with whiskey (especially the peach one) and Campari (especially the blackberry) cocktails.

*Lip smack.*

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2015 Overnights

Since our first or second year living together (in Atlanta, at the time), Dan and I have tried to have an overnight backpacking trip at least once in the Spring and once in the Fall. We’ve mostly stuck to that.

In Georgia, the north Georgia mountains were within a couple hours’ drive and included great trails for backpacking, such as the Appalachian, Benton MacKaye, and Duncan Ridge Trails. The Smoky Mountains were a little more of a drive.

In Maryland, I’ve had a little more trouble. There are lovely places in Virginia and West Virginia, like Shenandoah and Dolly Sods, that I would love to spend more time in and explore more, but they’re a little far for a weekend trip: 3-4 hours. The AT goes through a narrow part of Maryland, but it’s a short section (which we’ve done now) and not very remote. We’ve also been to Michaux State Forest just across the border in Pennsylvania. The AT runs through it as well, and backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the forest (so are pets!). So we’ll definitely want to go back there. But it’s kind of just rolling hills. Alas – we’ll have to keep exploring, and maybe take some three-day weekend trips to points south.

Our preferred method is to invite all our friends, drive to the general area on Friday afternoon/evening and car camp at a campground, and then set out hiking on Saturday for an overnight (ideally a loop, but out and back works too), returning to the cars and then home on Sunday.

Over Easter weekend in early April, which was still quite chilly, we hiked Fridley Gap in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. It rained Friday night, so we drove down early on Saturday. We had a lovely time, and it was super-relaxing and not too cold.

 

For the Fall, I entirely planned a trip to Michaux State Forest, reserved campsites for Friday night, and convinced some new folks to join us… and then Hurricane Patricia swung by with a ton of rain. So we canceled the trip :-(.

However, Dan and I got our fix on two other trips – one to Glacier National Park (3 days, 38 miles, beginning and ending in Many Glacier) and the other to the Grand Canyon (down South Kaibab trail and returning via Bright Angel, camping overnight in Indian Garden). Neither trip, unfortunately, included #campingwithdogs but were otherwise pretty fantastic.

Glacier:

Grand Canyon:

Salad Jars

In summer 2014, I started making jars in salads. I think I first got the idea from PopSugar, which reposts the same thing every month, it seems. It has changed my life, and my lunch. I generally make them for the week on Sundays. Sometimes, if I’ve traveled over the weekend or was just too busy, I’ll make them Monday evenings for the rest of the week. I use quart size Mason jars. I usually make four, since I telework one day each week. And then I’m good to go. It’s amazing.

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The general process is this:

  1. Dressing at the bottom. I’ll keep it simple with oil and vinegar or citrus, or get a little more fancy. I make enough for all four jars and then pour it among them.
  2. Beans (if using) next. For four jars, I’ll usually use one can of beans, which comes out to almost a 1/2 cup of beans per jar. If I’m not going to have other protein, or I just generally feel like I’ll need more calories, I might double that.
  3. Hard vegetables next – bell peppers, carrots, and/or celery.
  4. Softer vegetables next – mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumber, roasted sweet potato. If you were going to add something like rice or quinoa, I’d do it here.
  5. Lettuce/spinach/other greens near the top. Make sure it’s dry. This is not the most difficult part of making salad jars, but it can take the longest. If I have to wash the greens, I’ll do that first, salad-spin them, and them lay them out on paper towels for 1-2 hour until really dry. Otherwise they’ll get wilty and slimy in the jars by the end of the week. Also, I don’t use kale in salad jars. It seems like kale would be a good choice since it’s hearty and holds up better, but, in my experience, kale gets really smelly when cooped up in jars for several days, so that when I open it to eat it, my officemates come round asking what disposal got backed up.

I do all that and cap the jars and put them in the fridge.

6. Protein/fat – The night before or the morning of the day I plan to eat them, I’ll add protein or fat to the top, such as grilled chicken, tofu, or avocado.

I keep a large plastic bowl at work. When I’m ready to eat the salad, I’ll dump it all into my bowl and chow down.

I’ve made all sorts of salads, but my go-to when I’m not feeling creative includes:

  • Dressing of olive oil, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper
  • Black beans
  • Red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and any other vegetables I want to get rid of or use. In the late summer, this included roasted zucchini.
  • Spinach
  • Grilled chicken and/or avocado

 

 

I’m happy to say I’ve inspired others. My sister sent me these pictures a few weeks ago of her taco salad and quinoa asian salad.

Hello. And #BACleanse

Hi. This is my first post. I don’t want to belabor that too much, so I’ll just jump right in. My first several posts will be about eats and other things over the past year, just to start with a little content, the first of which will be jumping back alllll the way to Januarys gone by and the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse.

Yum. I have done (with varying levels of commitment) the BA Food Lover’s Cleanse for the past three or four years, and I can’t wait to do it again in January 2016. Because, although it is really a lot of work (and dishes – oh, the dishes), it is delicious and fun and makes you feel good.

So, as I enter the holiday season (dun dun dun) and all the treats it has in store (Thanksgiving is this coming week!), let me take a moment to remember – and share with you – some of my favorite dishes from previous years of the BA cleanse, many of which I have continued to make. Many of these are from the 2014 Cleanse, which I really did completely. Last year I was not as committed…

  1. Spinach, Tofu, and Shaved Carrot Salad with Sesame Dressing and Spiced Pepita and Cashew Crunch

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I am not a photographer of any sort, and certainly not a food photographer, so we’ll all just have to deal. I recommend going to the link above to see BA’s photo of this dish, which is much nicer than mine, but I think posting their image here would break a law. Anyway. This is such a delicious salad, made especially delicious by the Sesame Miso Vinaigrette and the Spiced Pepita and Cashew Crunch. Swoon. This salad made me realize that I do actually like carrots in salads, but only if they’re shaved. More work, sure, but a vastly improved experience all around.

2. Roasted Butternut Squash, Green Lentil and Brown Basmati Pilaf, and Kale with the Greenest Tahini Sauce

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You’ll notice if you go to BA’s photo that their portions do not all run into each other and look much more dainty and refined than my mishmash here. They either downsized for the photo or used bigger plates, or I am a piggy (no comments, please). Anyway, I have continued to make butternut squash this way since. It’s nothing revolutionary, but always nice to have a recipe to check, and the Aleppo pepper is tasty. This red pepper walnut relish was used throughout the cleanse on various dishes (omelette, roasted tofu – another favorite dish, photo below) and is so good. And the green tahini sauce could be consumed in massive quantities, so be careful.

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3. Orange Date Muesli with Coconut and Cacao Nibs – I haven’t made this in quite a while, and that’s really too bad. I don’t toast the coconut. Just make it as easy as possible.

4. Beet and Arugula Salad with Quinoa, Avocado, and Sunflower Seeds

5. Black Rice with Hazelnuts – because, hazelnuts.

And…. so many more. I’ll stop there. Enjoy. Now I’m really looking forward to January…!