Friday, October 11, 2013

Good news cranberry fans!

Those little berries? They should be cheaper this year than most.

Now before you get too excited, realize that if you go to buy an eight-ounce bag at Market Basket or Whole Foods, they will probably be the same price as usual. When you don't buy in bulk, you don't buy as a commodity. They store and/or the producer and/or the middleman will probably just get more of a markup (probably the store and middleman, the producers will be screwed). But due to high supply, prices on the wholesale level will likely be lower.

Here's a Boston Globe article all about it.

Now, I'm sure you're thinking: Where can I get cranberries wholesale? My advice is to check farmers markets. If a cranberry producer shows up, they'll probably sell a bunch of little baskets or bags of berries to people who want a couple to add a bunch of sugar to and do god-knows-what with. Fine. More for the rest of us. They may have big boxes for dirt cheap, and if they do, jump all over it. I've seen 8 ounce bags go for $3 ($6 per pound) but 25 pound boxes go for $30 ($1.20 per pound). That's one fifth the price, per pound, as the small bags! Buy in bulk and save.

If you do this, rinse the berries and freeze them, if you have the space. Or, eat a ton right off the bat. That's my strategy.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Best brownies … even better

My mother has the best brownie recipe. (Seriously.) It's from my grandmother and it's simple, foolproof and delicious. Not much flour, so you get dense, chocolate-y, fudge-y brownies, not fluffy, store-bought mix chocolate squares or their "from-scratch" clones. Brownies should not be flaky! On this there can be no debate.

Additional advantages: you can cut them small (because they're so goddamn rich) and you can pretty easily make them gluten free by subbing gluten-free flour for the flour in the recipe.

I've made them even better by adding cranberries. They're fine on their own, and from time to time I will make them straight, no berries involved. But adding cranberries, which sit and then pop as the batter bakes, adds a tart surprise which balances the deep chocolate. They're pretty fantastic.
Yum, cranberry-brownie mix.

Here's the recipe:

4 squares/ounces (about 3/4 cup) unsweetened chocolate
1 t vanilla
1 c butter (The original recipe says margarine. DO NOT USE MARGARINE EVER. You should not have it in your house.)
2 c sugar
1 c flour
3 eggs beaten
1/4 t salt
1 c walnuts (optional, they go well with cranberries of course)
8 oz cranberries, frozen or fresh

Here's the easy part: you don't need any powered instruments to make this. There's no sugar to cream with butter. Just get a bowl and a whisk. And 15 minutes. Literally even a slow and less competent chef should be able to get this in the oven in 15 minutes, and then there are only a couple of dishes to clean anyway.

Melt the butter and chocolate together. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix (this will cool the mixture down enough to add the eggs). Beat the eggs, and add them to this mixture, followed by the flour and salt. Stir in cranberries and walnuts, evenly distributing them though the batter (it's okay if they cool the batter down and it becomes almost like taffy).

Place in a 9x9 buttered and floured pan, bake at 350 for 40-60 minutes until a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool and serve. These freeze well, too. And they are delicious!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cranberry cookies

As we've seen, I like adding cranberries to things they're not normally in. We were discussing baking cookies, and I have a jar of dried cranberries which we discussed putting in. I was against the motion—these particular cranberries were over-sweetened (dried, unsweetened cranberries would be nice, but these were really sickly sweet)—and suggested fresh cranberries. Which I was out of.

Over the river and through the woods and off to the grocery we go. I returned with cranberries and used them instead of chocolate chips in tollhouse cookies. (You can also use them in addition to chocolate chips, which is not frowned upon, especially if you use dark chocolate which balances the cranberry flavor well.) The recipe is a normal tollhouse cookie recipe (feel free to use your own) but with a few minor changes. You'll use:

The berries won't stir in that well.
That's why the good lord gave you
hands. It's more fun, too.

  • 2 1/4 C flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C butter (softened)
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C cranberries (8 ounces), or 1/2 C cranberries and 1/2 C chocolate chips
  • 1 C chopped walnuts
Make these as you would normal chocolate chip cookies (cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla, stir in dries). Then add the nuts and chocolate chips. 

Slightly smushed and formed cookies
on the tray.
Finally, add the cranberries. The berries will not stick in the dough like raisins or chocolate chips do, so you'll have to form the cookies around the berries, especially if they are frozen. This precludes using a spoon to put the cookies on the baking sheet, so get your hands in to the dough! I also made slightly larger cookies (8 on a 12x18" sheet) so there are several berries in each. They don't have to be pretty when they go on the sheet, but you don't want berries rolling around. Making a sandwich—dough, cranberries, and more dough on top—seems to work well.

Bake at 350˚ until browned on top. Recipes often give times, but it depends a lot on the oven. These seemed to take longer than the usual 9-11 minutes you see on cookie recipes, because the cranberries keep the dough cooler. Once they pop, though, and the red juice runs down the side, well, it's a beautiful—and tasty—thing.

These also make a fantastic cookie bar (make the same batter, and put it in a glass pan and bake at 350 until done, 25-40 minutes).

Cranberries at Passover—an American Charoset

Back in biblical times, there wasn't much contact between the Americas and Europe and Asia (that is, of course, unless you're a Mormon). So it would seem anachronistic to include the certainly-American fruit in a Passover seder. But I was given the task of making charoset for the family meal this year, and I took it as a challenge. I made several varieties. There was a rather typical apple-plum-walnut (I found plums at the grocery, and they figured in well). There was "tropical" charoset which had mangoes and strawberries but wound up being too watery and had to be cooked down (although it tasted good and sure looked like mortar. There was pistachio charoset, which was subtle and delicious.

And then there was the crowd's favorite: cranberry. There are two traditional charosets. Ashkenazic is generally simply made with apples and walnuts. Sephardic focuses more on dried fruit like figs, raisins and dates and a variety of nuts. I prefer the moister texture of the Ashkenaz, but like the more exotic flavors of the Sephardim (the pistachio charoset, which I kept dry by adding only enough plum, apple and wine to get it to stick together, was more in this tradition). And cranberries, well, it's setting off in a new direction.

Charoset is generally quite sweet, so I figured the presence of the fruit (and a bit of honey or even maple syrup, for the true American experience) would balance out the tartness of the cranberries. (I'd eat straight cranberries chopped with walnuts and wine, but I'm not sure that's one to bring to the masses.) I had several requests for the recipe and I sort of laughed. Recipe? I just chopped stuff and mixed it in a bowl. Nevertheless, here's an approximation of what I made:

  • 2 Apples, a less-sweet variety like Granny Smith
  • 2 firm Plums
  • 1/2 pound (or perhaps more) Walnuts
  • 1/2 pound frozen cranberries (or if you can somehow get them, fresh)
  • A pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • Honey or maple syrup
  • A robust (cheap) wine. Kosher if you must. The Trader Joes / Whole Foods $3 merlot variety works fine
You could make this whole recipe by hand, but I used a food processor. Definitely easier.

Roast the walnuts until they are slightly browned and set aside to cool. Core both apples, quarter them and pulse in a food processor until they are chopped but not pureed. Set aside in a large bowl.

Do the same with the plums, drain off any extraneous liquid and add to the apples. 

Since you can't get fresh cranberries this time of year, put frozen cranberries in the food processor and pulse them until they are chopped as well, and add them to the mix.

Pulse the walnuts and add them slowly to the fruit, mixing frequently. When it reaches the desired consistency, stop adding the walnuts, although you should have some extra nuts. Taste the charoset. If it tastes too tart, add a bit (1 T or so) of honey or maple syrup. Then add a bit (a few T) of wine; this charoset has a complex enough flavor that the wine is not really necessary; certainly don't go overboard with it.

Finally, if the mixture is too watery, add some more walnuts to soak up the moisture.

This will serve 15 to 20 and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for a while. And I think it would make a heck of a cranberry sauce come Thanksgiving, too.

I was encouraged by many guests to quit my day job and go in to the charoset business. With the success of this and the pistachio (similar ingredients and process, figure it out) I just well may. It sure makes a healthy, and delicious snack. Even when you haven't been sitting around a table arguing and drinking wine for two hours beforehand.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The best Mac and Cheese you'll ever have

Nothing wrong with two pounds of Cabot
The best cheddar cheese in the world used to have a macaroni and cheese recipe on the back. My grandfather (and then, after he died, grandmother) used to make a pretty mean mac and cheese, too. So, I took the two recipes, pulled them in to one and, of course, added the magic ingredient. The result is phenomenal, and has three of my most favorite foods:

  1. Cabot seriously sharp cheddar
  2. Caramelized onions
  3. Cranberries
  4. Oh, and there's cayenne in there, too. You could call it the four Cs Mac and Cheese.
What this means is that you combine the tanginess of the cheddar, the sweetness of the onions, the sourness of the cranberries and the spiciness of the cayenne. It's fantastic.

So here's the deal. This will make enough for two 9x12 / 10x13 pans; it's enough to put in the fridge or freezer for the whole week. Or cut it in half and it's a good meal for two to four (depending on how hungry you are). Oh, and experiment, change portions, this is not exact.

The not-so-secret ingredient
  • 4 c elbow mac (about a pound, or a bit more)
  • 6 T of butter, plus a little more to grease the pan, plus a little more to caramelize the onions
  • 6 T flour
  • 1 t dry mustard (or quite a bit more of dijon)
  • 1 t cayenne (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 t ground pepper
  • 1 t worcestershire
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 c whole milk
  • 24-32 oz cheddar. Sharper the better. And really if it's not Cabot, you're doing it wrong. OH and it can not be yellow. DO NOT USE YELLOW CHEESE.
  • 1 to 2 onions, chopped, sauteed in butter as long as possible so they are brown and sweet. Don't add anything.
  • 1 cup (or so) of coarsely chopped bread crumbs (stale french or italian bread works very well for this)
  • About a pound of cranberries
Caramelize the onions. If you don't know how to do this, chop the onions, put them in a pan with butter brown them, then turn the heat to low and cook for a while. The lower and longer the better. If you don't do this ahead of time, it should be your first step. And if you do this ahead of time, make a bunch of onions, and put some in the fridge.

Cook the pasta fully. While it is boiling, grate about a pound and a half of cheese, or a bit more. Warm the milk (pouring cold milk in to a roux is a recipe for disaster) in a pot or microwave. Have the spices, milk and cheese by the stove.

Ready to go in the oven. I forgot to take a picture of
the beautifully-browned finished product. We were
too hungry for such frivolities.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low-to-medium heat and, once it is melted, slowly add the flour, whisking constantly. (Also, make sure you don't brown the butter.) This is the roux. This should develop in to a paste. Keep the heat low, and be careful not to over-brown it. Add the spices to this mixture. Then, slowly add the milk, continuing to whisk. Add the cheese bit by bit, stirring constantly. (Lots of stirring.) Once it thickens, turn the heat to low and keep stirring.

To this mixture, add the pasta, the caramelized onions, and the cranberries. Stir until the cranberries, if they are frozen together, are separated.

Grease pan(s) and pour the mixture in to the pans. Coarsely chop crusty bread (or use bread crumbs) and sprinkle across, and top this with about 1/4 of the cheese, reserved.

Bake at 400˚ for half an hour until the top and sides begin to brown. Slice and serve, and refrigerate leftovers. This can be made in pie tins and frozen for months and rewarmed in a 350˚ oven. That's how my grandfather made it, and he'd deliver it to our freezer for an easy kids meal. (Well, he used some swiss, and didn't add cranberries.) It makes a great adult comfort food meal too, especially when served with a salty, savory green (I'm thinking spinach, kale or asparagus).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cranberry banana bread

A few years ago, I wrote my mother for a brownie recipe. What I got was not only a brownie recipe (to which I've added cranberries, of course), but several others. One on the list is for banana bread. To search my gmail for the recipe, I originally searched "brownies" but now am just as likely to search "banana" since this bread is so good. Whenever I have two or three too-mushy-to-eat bananas, I'll throw together this bread (or, I'll throw them in the freezer for future use in this bread).

Now, the original recipe is for chocolate chip banana bread with a chocolate-coffee drizzle. There is nothing wrong with this! But if you have cranberries about, you can sub them in for the chocolate, and it's even healthier (despite the fruit, this bread is by no means for strict dieters—the secret ingredient is sour cream, and if you use anything but real, full-fat sour cream, you're a ninny).

20 minutes prep, 1 hour in the oven.

2 c flour
1 c sugar
1 t baking soda
1/2 t vanilla (or more, to taste)
1 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 c butter (the recipe says margarine, but, uhm, no—I think it was from the '60s ro '70s)
1/3-1/2 c sour cream (or yogurt)
1 c banana, mashed to chunky consistency (or chopped, if frozen); 2-3 bananas
8-16 oz cranberries (i.e. however many you have)

Preheat an oven to 375˚.

Sift the flour, salt and soda. Cream the butter, sugar and add eggs and vanilla, then the flour and then the bananas and cranberries. Butter a loaf pan and then coat the butter inside with sugar (seriously, so good), then add the batter. The recipe says 55-60 minutes but I've had it take longer; test it with a knife or toothpick.

It's extremely rich, and can be enjoyed on its own or with butter or cream cheese if you want a proper heart attack.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pasta carbonara, or something, with apples and cranberries

Pasta carbonara—pasta tossed with bacon and egg—is a great last-minute meal because it is very tasty and very quick. In less than half an hour you have a full main course, and, of course, the addition of cranberries makes it all the better (well, it makes it different, but it's very good). And it makes it slightly healthier. I was looking around my kitchen for things to make for dinner and saw bacon, pasta and eggs, a granny smith apple and, of course, cranberries, and—twenty-five minutes later—was eating dinner.

Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients for four moderately-sized (multiplies/divides easily):
8 strips bacon (mmm, bacon)
1 pound pasta
2 eggs, beaten
1 apple (I like Granny Smiths)
Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese for grating. Don't buy the powdered or shredded stuff in the plastic container—get a wedge and grate it yourself.

Heat a skillet over medium-low flame, and fry the bacon. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the pasta. Chop the apple in half and cut out the core, then slice each half in to thin slices, and cut these in half. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. When the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan and any excess grease, and pat it dry with a paper towel. Keep the skillet over medium-low heat and add the apple and cranberries, cook them until they are soft.

In the mean time, chop the bacon in to small pieces, and add them back to the skillet; stir it in with the fruit. Drain the pasta, and add it to the skillet (if your skillet isn't big enough, throw the pasta and skillet contents in to a large bowl). Stir the pasta and skillet contents together, and put it in a large mixing bowl. Immediately add the egg, and stir quickly to coat (they eggs shouldn't scramble).

Top with shredded cheese.