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Archive for November, 2008

One odd fact that I came across while reading up on food holidays was that National Cranberry Month is in October, but National Cranberry Day is today, November 23rd. I suppose the month of October celebrates when the fruit comes to harvest, but this day, and this day alone sanctifies all that mouth puckering, fruit popping goodness of cranberries.

I so think cranberries get a bad rap, and have really been shoved to the back of the superfood lineup what with the pomegranate, acai and other fabulous nutritional (and likely fickle) findings as of late. Cranberries are amazing little powerhouses that become so abundant this time of year that my market sells them off for less than $2 a pound. Being that this fruit freezes better than anything I’ve seen- well over six months is not at all unusual and 9-12 months is considered standard- it isn’t a stretch for me to stock my freezer all through the winter, and still be enjoying these bursting little orbs in the spring and summer. A nice roasted pork loin covered with cranberry and apples in the Fall is just as good as one grilled in the heat of summer and topped with chilled cranberry compote. Vanilla yogurt tastes divine with a scoop of cranberries stirred inside, and ice cream has the perfect palette to the tart and jeweled colors of the fruit. Just because the classic turkey and cranberry feast is almost upon us is no reason to abandon the cranberries once Thanksgiving is over.

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For just a tad bit of history on our humble little star today- Cranberries are part of the evergreen family and grow on low creeping shrubs in moist acidic bogs in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. They are pollinated by the domestic honey bee and also go by the name mossberry and fenberry. Contrary to popular belief, and not in any deference to those Ocean Spray commercials, but cranberry bogs are not kept flooded during the growing season; they are only flooded at harvest time to facilitate removal of the fruit, and often during the winter to protect the vines, yes, even in chilly climates like Minnesota and Wisonsin where cranberries are a major crop. Nearly 95% of the crop is processed into juices, sauce and other packaged items; only 5% make it to US markets as fresh fruit. Cranberries have moderate levels of vitamin C, fiber and the essential minerals like manganese, as well as a balanced profile of other essential micronutrients. They also inhibit the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract, making them an excellent defense against infections. The tannins have anti-clogging properties and can help ward off dental plaque and gingivitis; they also help strengthen the immune and cardiovascular system and fight arterial plaque.

To make that fabulous looking cranberry compote, mix together one package of fresh cranberries (they can be added to cooking direct from the frozen state), one cup of dried cranberries, 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of water, a teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg and (optional) 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. I have subbed in honey for some of the sweetener with excellent results. The vinegar gives it a nice depth and added tartness- like you need it- and you can cut back on the sugar for more tart. Brown sugar gives the compote a deeper and richer flavor than white. Sub in white if you want but start with less and add in more if you prefer a sweeter flavor. I think a balance of sweet and tart is best for cranberries, after all, that’s what they’re all about.

And sharing the day with the glorious cranberry is Espresso- It’s National Espresso Day. We did a cappucino day at the beginning of the month, so I’m just going to step away from the keyboard and let this recipe shine.

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Espresso Biscotti

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups pastry flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Cream together butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Mix dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Stir in the espresso powder, orange zest, chocolate chips, dried apricots, dried cranberries and almonds.

Shape dough into two equal logs approximately 12 inches long by 2 inches diameter. Place logs on baking sheet, and flatten out to about 1 inch thickness. Brush the log with egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven until edges are golden and the center is firm, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven to cool on the pans. When loaves are cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to slice the loaves diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Bake until they start turning light brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely, and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

KATE’S NOTES: I did not use either the orange zest or the dried fruit in this recipe; it’s a personal thing for me, and I imagine if it’s your thing it will be delicious. It just isn’t mine.

I added chopped dark chocolate to these. I don’t like to put whole chips in biscotti as they tend to snap out when you slice them so I took my chef’s knife to the chocolate to break it up. Big mistake- dark chocolate has far less moisture than any other chocolate, and that coupled with the dry November air meant there were little shards of chocolate ALL over my kitchen. And me. Chocolate that defied being cleaned up and simply fluttered every place I tried to wipe, sweep or brush. And if you use a wet rag, it just smears. Suffice to say I was cleaning up chocolate the entire time the cookies baked for the first step. The. Entire. Time. And I found it in lots of odd places for the rest of the afternoon. But oh, these cookies were delicious. SO well worth it!

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cashewsIt’s National Cashew Day. Today will be informative, but brief.

The cashew is a tree in the flowering plant family Anacardiaceae, and it’s native to northeastern Brazil. The name derives from the Portugese name for the fruit of the cashew tree, caju, which in turn derives from an indigenous name, acajú, so it’s a derivative of a derivative. In Indonesia it’s named  “Jambu Monyet”, because the cashewnut apparently looks like a monkey hanging on something. The tree is now cultivated in many regions where there is sufficient warmth and humidity for proper growth. Vietnam, NIgeria, India and Brazil produce 90% of the world’s crop of cashews.

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The actually nut produced from the tree is a secondary fruit that forms at the end of the cashew apple, known as a pseudofruit, a thin skinned fruit also known as a maranon. The pulp is sweet and juicy but the skin of the fruit breaks easily making  it unsuitable for transport. The single seed is grown inside a double shell that contains the same potent skin toxin as poison ivy and often creates an allergic reaction in some to the cashew. Although we see it as a nut, a cashew is really a seed.

Cashews are rich in copper, magnesium and zinc- all containing antioxidant properties, but a serving of 18 nuts has 12 grams of fat containing 2.5 grams saturated. Yes, they are delicious and decadent. This is one of those items where the phrase ‘Everything in moderation’ really does apply. They figure prominently in Thai and Chinese cuisine, and are primarily ground for sauces in Indian cuisine. They can be used in a vegan diet as a substitute for cheese.

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{{{ photo courtesies: The Nut Factory (top), Wikipedia (center) Information from this post found on Wiki }}}

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It’s another great food holiday today, if you’re me that is; it’s National Gingerbread Day! I love gingerbread.

Again, it’s a Mom thing as is nearly all of my baking love; something I got from having a mom who loved Gingersnap cookies and would make them regularly when I was little. That molasses tang, the bite of ginger- I couldn’t wait until the first batch came out of the oven. Although we always (always) had an ongoing debate over the merits of a firm crispy cookie versus a chewy moist one, I didn’t really care when Gingersnaps were on the docket. Chewy or crisp, I loved them madly and could eat them any day.

I still love making my mom’s Gingersnaps and Griffin and I have pooled our willingness to get them from batter to oven to hand on several occasions. I roll out the dough balls and he takes care of the sugar coating. Then, like me and my mom did, we wait in eager anticipation for the first batch to be cool enough so we don’t burn our mouths.

Griffin loves Gingerbread as well, and when I was taking the pan out of the oven, his eyes glazed over in delight. This is the second, or maybe third showing of this recipe and it’s so perfect that I have no desire to look anywhere else. It’s dark, rich and loaded with molasses and ginger, perfect next to ice cream or vanilla yogurt and amazing with a scoop of warm cranberry compote on top.

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Ginger Spice Cake
(anonymous food network star)

2 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1 T. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. allspice
1 egg
1/2 c. molasses
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 and coat a 8″ square pan with cooking spray.

Stir together dry ingredients. With electric mixer, blend egg, molasses, sugar and melted butter until thick and very smooth. Gradually mix in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, mixing each addition thoroughly. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake center comes out clean.

KATE’S NOTES:
I had some soy eggnog on hand and used that instead of the buttermilk, giving the finished cake a nice richness. And since I tend to be slightly forgetful in the kitchen sometimes, I overbaked this a bit and the edges got rather firm. It did not alter the taste of the product at all, in fact, the firm edge stood up so well to the moistness of yogurt and ice cream that it was almost beneficial.

And the cranberries?? Well, that’s coming up on Sunday so venture back then for all things Cranberry!

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More than a little excited….

Today is National Peanut Butter Fudge Day, and Celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Could any two culinary items be less alike??

Since I first began planning my foray into NaBloPoMo in early October, I have had my eye excitedly on November 20th, and really, the whole month in general because not only do we celebrate fudge today, I will honor the month of November as- ZOMG squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee– National PEANUT BUTTER LOVER’S Month!

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Hi, my name is Kate and I am a peanut butter-a-holic. Shamelessly. I am so blissfully addicted to the stuff that the very mention of a low quantity in the container is enough to send me into sort of a panic mode, slipping into my shoes with determination to get to the nearest store and replenish our supply. A day does not go by that I don’t consume peanut butter – whether on toast or some other form of transportation to my mouth- and I couldn’t be happier for it. This has been my life ever since I can remember.

And I’m not a Jif or Skippy girl by any means. For me, it’s Real or it’s Parker Farms and I don’t even care that I have shockingly witnessed first-hand the near catastrophic rise on the price tag of my one-and-only pantry staple that never runs out, I will never quit buying it. I even love an occasional indulgence in the gourmet aspect of it too.

There’s a website for people like me where even Olympic champions like Greg Louganis extol the virtues of peanut butter. It’s found in nearly 75% of homes in America, and as a food, surely you could do worse than to indulge in pureed peanuts with salt. Peanut butter contains high levels of monosaturated fat and resveratrol which protect against heart disease. It provides protein, Vitamins B3 (Niacin) and E, fiber, magnesium and folate along with antioxidants.

We even have a cat who loves peanut butter. See??? And apparently, I’m not the only one who seemingly loves the stuff and almost wants to wear it, it’s so good. The history of it is pretty interesting too.

My favorite item to mix with peanut butter has to be chocolate, although I’ve been known to press green olives on a peanut butter sandwich, spread it on a banana, eat it with bacon and drizzle it over ice cream. The classic Reese’s commercial of two people accidentally introducing one’s chocolate into one’s peanut butter stays stuck in my mind; it’s a match made in heaven. So is a thick and chewy chunk of fudge rippled in peanut butter goodness. I enjoy a hunk of fudge here and there but for the most part it’s awfully sweet for my taste, and if it’s ever grainy then I want nothing to do with it. A pure peanut butter version can be found here, so if you are so inclined.

And swerving completely away from food, the third Thursday in November is well known in the wine world as the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. This light and often fruity wine is produced in a quick fashion and makes a light red wine that is simple to drink, seeming more like a white than a heavy, tannic red. It’s meant to be consumed immediately; Beaujolais Nouveau is not made to be aged or kept at all, and in fact, should you find it after the holidays it generally isn’t worth purchasing. Beaujolais Nouveau is about the celebration; it’s release is closely guarded until midnight of the big day when celebrations around the world begin with the popping of the first cork. Ideally in the wine world, a wine that is released between it’s harvest and a date in the Spring is normally called a Primeur; one that is released between it’s harvest date and the next harvest date is typically a Nouveau.

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Whether or not it has the proper moniker, wine lovers go a little wild over the yearly release. I’m all right with a glass or two of it but I don’t rush out to buy a bottle as it’s just a bit too light and fluffy for my tastes. I love a good bold red and BN just doesn’t cut it. The idea that it is divine with your Thanksgiving meal is somewhat of a myth too; the wine is too fruity to be a perfect match, and the timing of the release has given rise to the belief that it’s perfect with turkey. Personally, a good earthy Pinot Noir is my ideal match for the bird.

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There’s 10 days to go for NaBloPoMo this year and some really great stuff is coming down the pipe. Stay tuned!!

{{{peanut butter photo courtesy of SlashFood, Beaujolais Nouveau photo courtesy of the Washingtonian}}}

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It’s National Carbonated Beverage with Caffeine Day. Talk about ridiculous. Call it Pop, call it Soda or simply just call it what it is- garbage disguised as sugary, calorie laden liquid. I can’t even imagine anything worse to put in your body.

*taking a deep breath* Ok, now would you like to know how I really feel about it? Sorry for the rant.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that I have never been much of a pop-a-holic. Sure it’s OK once in a while- I mean, nothing tastes quite like a Diet Coke over ice that has been liberally doused with fresh squeezed lime juice and when I was first pregnant with the Little Carnivore, and mind you had not drank a soda in like a million and one years, I craved Coca Cola over ice to a near fatal extent and was at a point where I wanted to literally gnaw my arm off in exchange for one. I tell you, those pregnancy cravings are something else. And that first sip, ever, of that first Coke over ice made that little zygote residing deep inside me so darn happy, quelling the intense craving and I was saved, thank God. At least for a while, you know….until I had to have the next one.

No wonder my now 14yo teenager has such a sweet tooth.

ANYWAY……gosh, could I get any further off track? That soda craving never took hold once my son joined the world and although I indulge here and there, especially enjoying a Diet Cherry Coke now and then, I simply don’t get the current craze of Rockstar, Red Bull, Bawls (what the…??) Envigo or the really intense hair-pulling I think of when I see bottled water with caffeine. And what’s worse is that these beverages are ridiculously popular. Coffee consumption has spiked to new highs in our society, leaving no other conclusion than the fact that we, as Americans, are absolutely and ridiculously addicted to caffeine.

Now I am a coffee drinker, and I am sipping on a delightful mug of java as I write this, so I am not one to point a finger at another’s addiction. I’m all there on it too. But in coffee, not carbonation. I’ve tried several of the new-fangled “energy” drinks and found them disgustingly sweet and yucky. I think Red Bull tastes like liquid Sweet Tarts, which I never liked anyway, and Rockstar is no better. But there is a market for these, and given the sheer number of people I see clutching an “energy” drink in their tight fists, apparently it’s not going away any time soon. It makes me wonder though- do people really like the stuff, or are they conforming to something popular? I can recall watching a group of teenage girls one day, each one gripping a can of Red Bull, and noticing that none of them ever took a sip of the drink. They just carried it like some badge of honor. It leads me to wonder; is caffeine trendy?

Shouldn’t we be more careful of the potential side effects of too much caffeine????

What ever your poison, enjoy the day. It’s a holiday after all and count me in as one of the addicted. I love my coffee and have indulged in it daily since I was a teenager. I’ll never quit drinking it.

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It’s National Vichyssoise Day;  a chilly November day and we will be honoring cold soup.

Something just isn’t right about this picture. Like Ice Cream Sundae Day, it should be during one of those scorching months of summer where appreciating a cold food is actually a fun prospect, not one to make you shiver.

Vichyssoise- say Vee shee swaz, or Veesh eee swaz– sounds like one of those incredibly complicated dishes that require time and focus, but in truth, it’s a simple potato leek soup that is pureed smooth and served chilled. There is nothing hard about it, nor time consuming. And it’s delicious in either form- hot and chunky (which food snobs would argue that it’s NOT Vichyssoise in that regard but I couldn’t care less about that) or smooth, silky and ice cold.  Julia Child’s recipe was so simple that it didn’t even include chicken stock- it was just potato and leek simmered in water and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can’t get much simpler than that.

The origin of the soup is questionable in whether it’s genuinely French or an American creation. Both countries claim to be the first to produce the dish, but the credit is generally given to Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City. He produced the soup based on a memory of his childhood where his mother and grandmother would make a potato leek soup and his older brother often poured milk into his bowl to cool it off. Diat thought the soup tasted wonderful and in the summer of 1917 he recreated it for the hotel patrons. Diat was French and his hometown in France was Montmarault, not far from the town of Vichy which became the moniker for his creation. The original menu at the Ritz was French, and the soup was named Creme Vichyssoise Glacee, then changed to Cream Vichyssoise Glacee. Other culinarian historians debate that the soup was first made by French chef Jules Gouffe and published in a French cookbook in 1859. Regardless of who can be credited with the invention, Vichyssoise has a reputation for high class finesse despite being little more than peasant food. Anthony Bourdain lists Vichyssoise as a catalyst for his lifelong passion with food; having been served the soup on a trans-atlantic voyage at the age of 9, he recalls falling in love with the “delightfully cool, tasty liquid.”

I really love potato leek soup, and the simplicity of the preparation. For added flavor, you can roast the potato and the leek until golden brown, then add them to simmering chicken stock. I love using Yukon Gold potato for this soup as it gives it such a gorgeous yellow tone, and eaten as a chunky version or blended smooth, it’s a perfect and soothing soup for a cold day as well as a delicious and light chilled soup in the midst of steaming July. The usual garnish is chives or parsley, and a tiny pat of butter in a hot bowl gives it a nice rich decadence. The milk or cream is entirely optional too; the soup is divine just plain. It’s one of those items where more is definitely not better.

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And I am a little shamed to admit that I didn’t prepare either one for their special day(s). Welcome to the slacker version of National Baklava Day and National Homemade Bread Day. It promises to be short and sweet. Literally.

For what it’s worth I did intend to make some bread, but unless I seriously set aside a chunk of time and don’t allow anything else to interfere, it just doesn’t happen. That time should have been a lazy Sunday afternoon at home, but instead I had a lazy Sunday afternoon in the warm cocoon of my sister-in-law’s kitchen and my best intentions were knocked aside for the promise of familial love. Although it may sound crazy to some food-obsessed individuals, I will set aside any food plan if it means spending time with my family. I know my priorities. Besides, search for homemade bread, bread from scratch or any number of options for creating a yeasty orb from your own kitchen and you are inundated with options. No one needs another agonizingly long, step by step process of making bread at home. Mix, knead, rise, punch, shape, rise and bake. Got that?

So instead of waxing on about the merits of homemade bread, which we really all should know about anyway, let’s talk a little bit about Baklava. A very little bit.

I’ve never made in from scratch, nor do I intend to make a pan. Although it is delicious and I won’t ever turn down a piece, the labor-intensive process isn’t something I am thrilled to undergo, no matter how amazing the result. I am very blessed to live in an urban area where one can find some incredible ethnic cuisines and authentic Greek food is not lacking one bit.

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Baklava is usually considered Turkish in origin, but the true beginnings of this rich pastry dessert are actually not very clear, although plenty of information dates it to the Byzantine Empire. Regardless of where it began, the method for creating it remains pretty consistent across the board, given only to variations for the filling based on an individual’s preferences. Layers of butter-brushed phyllo dough are filled with a mixture of nuts, then baked to a golden hue before being drenched in a sweet honey syrup. It’s decadence for certain and not a recipe inclined for a neophyte baker; like I said, I have no interest in ever making it although I am certain that with my agonizing attention to detail and rather obsessive nature, I would likely make a righteous pan of it if the desire ever struck. Thanks, but no thanks. I would rather gaze at photos like the one above and read over someone else’s recipe.

See? I told you it would be short and sweet!

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