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.

Easy, cranberry breakfast

What's better for breakfast than oatmeal? Oatmeal with cranberries, of course. Throw them in to the pot about 30 seconds after the oats, and they'll pop and ooze as the oatmeal cooks. Top with a bit of brown sugar and you have a breakfast fit for a king.
Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients (per person):
3/4 c each: milk*, water*, oatmeal
1/2 c cranberries (or, more or less to taste)
brown sugar
* for very rich oatmeal, use all milk, for less rich (and less caloric) oatmeal, use all water. I prefer mine half-milk, half-water.


Boil milk-water mixture. Take care not to boil over. When it begins to boil, add the oats, stir, and then add the cranberries within 30 seconds. Return to a boil and stir constantly until it reaches your desired consistency. Top with brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, and butter if you so desire.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nachos (with, of course, cranberries)

I like nachos. They are filling, moderately healthy (if you throw enough vegetables on them—I say this as someone with an active lifestyle who needs a lot of calories) and above all, tasty. The other night I set about making nachos and decided that, in the spirit of this page, I'd see how cranberries fit in. The answer: quite well, thank you.

Tortilla chips
Sharp cheddar cheese
Monterrey Jack or similar cheese
Black beans (canned or cooked)
Onions (cooked, optional)
Peppers (cooked, optional)

Toppings for dipping:
Sour cream

I've left off quantities because you can make nachos as big or small as you want. Fair warning: you have to eat them hot (although they can be reheated, but not in a microwave, or if you've added toppings). Once they come out of the oven, you have about 20 minus before the cheese cools and they lose everything that makes them special.

When I have nachos, I always make them multi-layered. Chips, toppings, cheese, chips, toppings, cheese. With cranberries, mix them with black beans (don't bother chopping them, they'll pop and ooze as it gets hot) and top with cheese and such. Cook at 400˚ until the cheese is nicely browned.

I didn't try these with guacamole because I a) couldn't find a ripe avocado and b) didn't know if the cranberries would clash with it. But with the tanginess of the little red berries. it needs little more flavor.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cranberry sauce, no sugar added

In my last post, I talked about how I planned to make cranberry sauce without adding sugar. I think I was successful. With only four ingredients!

2 12 oz. bags of cranberries (fresh, of course)
3-5 onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup (or so) apple cider

The first step here is caramelizing onions. If you know how to caramelize onions, skip the next paragraph. If not, here's the deal. Caramelizing onions is all about patience and low heat. And butter. You can use another fat, but everything else in this recipe is a fruit or vegetable and butter works the best, so use butter. I usually caramelize in a cast iron pan because I do almost anything in a cast iron pan. Melt the butter over medium heat and add the onions. Once they begin to brown, turn the heat to low and cover. Continue to cook the onions, assuring that they don't burn, until they are dark brown, soft and sweet. The sugar in the onions will offset the cranberries.

The cranberries are acidic enough that you don't want to cook them in your cast iron. Add the onions and cranberries over low heat and cook until the cranberries the berries burst. Occasionally stir the onions and berries over the low heat for 15-25 minutes. Have a taste, and if the berries are a bit too bitter (or tart) add apple cider about 1/3 cup at a time until it takes the bitterness edge off. Cook 5-10 more minutes, or more if desired, cool and serve or store.

This should serve 8-12 people. Unless they really like cranberries.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recipe #2 preview: Simple cranberry sauce with no added sugar

So many cranberry sauces call for sugar. Candy the berries. Mix them with cup upon cup of granulated, white sugar. I've never been one to shy away from sweets, but too much sugar is a good way to push the cranberry off of the center stage. So my cranberry plan for Turkey Day is multi-fold, but it does, of course, include a sauce. I won't, however, touch a single grain of sugar.

Would I eat plain, stewed cranberries? Most definitely. Will my family? Well, a festive holiday of overeating and football might not be the best time to find out. So my plan is to temper the cranberries with caramelized onion. If cranberries are my favorite food—and I'll go out on a limb and say that cranberries are my favorite food—caramelized onions are not far down the list. I love sweet, slow-cooked onions for several reasons. The transformation from a vegetable that makes you cry to one that is almost as sweet as candy. The patience the onions take to caramelize. If you don't have two hours, you're not doing it right. The sensuous smell that fills the kitchen as the onions slowly melt out their sugars as the onion's edge recedes.

I can taste it already. The onions and berries are the basis for my cranberry mac and cheese (deride, deride, but it is heavenly). However, my scheduled day to cook is not until Wednesday, at which time I'll caramelize onions and cook them with cranberries until the sauce is tangy and edgy but not going to bowl anyone over.

Tart, little red berries

I love cranberries. I adore them. If you give me a bag of raw cranberries, I'll eat the whole thing raw (this is going on right now, in fact). Their color is splendid, deep, autumnal reds, crimsons, maroons. A tart but not-very-bitter interior. A few small seeds to settle under your tongue. A tangy aftertaste with just enough sweetness to keep you from puckering. They're great.

Last November, I made a trip to the always wonderful Saint Paul Farmers Market and there was a truck from Tomah, Wisconsin, selling cranberries. Five pounds for twelve dollars. Or, ooh, ten pounds for twenty dollars. Even better, fifteen pounds for twenty-five dollars. Or, twenty-five pounds for thirty. Last week at the market. Last chance to get my hands on more cranberries than even I could eat. I wandered amongst the other late-season stalls—an earlier freeze had diminished inventories of fresh produce even though it was sunny and 60. Nothing was too my liking. Back to the cranberries. "You know what, the hell with it. I'll take 25 pounds."

And that was the beginning of this blog.

I made it home, somehow, although I didn't bike uphill with the berries (the bus helped). I ate berries for a week by the handful, and the bag full, and still hadn't made a dent. The rest of the berries—5 gallons worth!—went in the freezer for the winter. I had a lot of cranberries to eat. So I started putting them in everything.

I started with bread—I didn't make cranberry sauce that Thanksgiving—but soon branched out. Chocolate chip cookies? Chocolate chip and cranberry cookies. Brownies? Brownies with cranberries? Curry, corn bread and macaroni and cheese? Cranberries in them all. And, no, this blog will not be umpteen holiday-themed desserts. Cranberries are too good to be relegated in to a niche. The versatile, healthy fruit is a centerpiece of my diet. As well it should be. I even picked some wild mountain cranberries (shh—I probably wasn't supposed to) working in the mountains this past summer, but I promptly ate them all. And after a year of cranberries, I'll do my best to share.

To start: Recipe #1: eat 'em raw. That's right. Straight from the bag. (You might want to wash them.) "But, oh, they're too tart?" you may say. Wrong. They are the right tartness. They are good. You're not sucking on a lemon.