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Jalapeño Cranberry Sauce

My family has always skipped the “gel in a can” and made cranberry relish from scratch, with sugar, an orange, and a blender.  But last year, I decided to try making a sauce instead.

Doesn't that look festive?

Doesn’t that look festive?

I am the biggest spice weenie, but everyone else in my family likes things hot.  My parents are on a perpetual quest for sinus-nuking Chinese mustard.  Dad and my grandfather used to have jalapeño-eating contests.  A while back, I gave Dad a bottle of the kind of hot sauce that comes with a disclaimer; he and the Wife each tried a drop, and bonded through their tears.  When I don’t weenie it down, people with normal capsaicin tolerance describe this cranberry sauce as having great flavour with a mild kick.  The only way I can handle it is with the accompaniment of dairy, like on a cracker with feta cheese.

It's also fantastic on vanilla ice cream.

It’s also fantastic on vanilla ice cream.

INGREDIENTS:
12 oz. fresh cranberries
2 jalapeño peppers
1 c. water
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. lemon or lime juice*

  • remove cores and seeds from jalapeños, then mince
  • stir sugar in water in a saucepan to dissolve, bring to a boil
  • add in cranberries, jalapeños, and juice, return to boil
  • drop heat to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (the less you stir, the more nice, big berry chunks you’ll have)

If you’re into canning, you can absolutely do a large batch of this and save it to give out as gifts (Merry Christmas, Dad!), or for your own personal hoarding.  Otherwise, let it cool to room temperature, then store it in the refrigerator.

* Chemically, there is no reason you couldn’t substitute in orange juice if you wanted to. If somebody wants to try that as a variation, please comment to let me know how it came out!

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Matzo Ball Soup

So… I’m not Jewish.  I’m not even Christian.  My parents got married in the local UCC Protestant church; Nana, Dad and I were in the choir for years, and I went to Sunday School there until I was about nine and announced that it wasn’t the right fit for me.  But for a tiny town in Maine (year round population: 4500), it was a startlingly open and progressive church.

It may or may not have looked exactly like this one.

It may or may not have looked exactly like this one.

One of the many things I remember fondly is that they taught us about the old testament holidays as well, and asked the sole Jewish family in town to talk to us about Passover and Hanukkah, and the associated traditions.  And Jewish holiday food is awesome.

The fact that it’s really hard to find matzo ball soup in rural New England led me to eventually try to make it on my own.  Fortunately, I have been assured that as long as you use matzo meal for the balls and chicken broth for the soup, you can’t go too horribly wrong.

This is one of the few circumstances where I will specify ingredient brands. The “Manhattan Matzo Balls” recipe on the back of Streit’s unsalted matzo meal is perfect for big, fluffy balls, and Tabatchnik chicken broth has exactly the flavor profile that canned soups aspire to but fail to achieve.

OMG IT'S SO FLUFFY I'M GONNA DIE!!!

OMG IT’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE!!!

INGREDIENTS:
1 c. matzo meal
4 large eggs
1/4 c. water or seltzer
1/4 c. oil
1 tsp. salt
pinch of ground pepper

64 oz. chicken broth
2 c. water
1 large carrot
1 purple headed turnip
1 large parsnip
1/2 c. minced onion
dill to taste

For the matzo balls:

  • in a bowl, scramble eggs with a fork, then mix in oil, 1/4 c. water, salt and pepper
  • add in matzo meal, mix thoroughly
  • chill in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes
  • bring a large pot of water to a boil*
  • drop in rounded tablespoonfuls of matzo ball batter, simmer for 30 minutes

For the soup:

  • chop carrot, turnip, and parsnip into 1/2″ pieces
  • in a large pot, mix broth, 2 c. water, veggies and dill, then bring to boil, and simmer 30 minutes

*Personally, I don’t mind the broth being a little cloudy, like my matzo balls to take on the flavour, and dislike washing extra dishes, so I just cook them directly in the soup.  I’m sure myriad bubbes would scold me for that, but they aren’t here, so 😛

Who Loves French Toast?

The Wife’s family doesn’t tend to put as much importance on food as mine does.  Excepting major holidays, the overwhelming majority of “cooking” in their house happens in the microwave.  But one thing they used to do with fair consistency was Sunday morning breakfasts.  As a result, I’ve had a decent amount of opportunity to perfect my french toast technique over the last eight years.

See that fluffy, gooey, custardy goodness?

I’m sure she loves me for other reasons too, though…

Old, stale bread is alchemically converted into fluffy, custardy goodness.  It’s fantastic. This recipe is for 3/4″ thick slices of Italian or French bread, just double or triple the quantities as needed. As long as the ratios stay the same, you’ll be just fine.

INGREDIENTS:
4 slices stale bread
3 eggs
1 c. whole milk or half and half
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
butter or candied bacon grease

  1. in a pie pan (or other wide, flat, low container) use a fork to scramble together the eggs, milk, sugar, and cinnamon
  2. lay the first slice of bread in egg mixture to soak
  3. melt a small pat of butter or candied bacon grease in a frying pan over medium heat, and while your lipid of choice melts, flip the piece of bread so both sides get saturated
  4. gently place egg-soaked bread in frying pan, and set next piece of bread to soak
  5. flip toast in pan when it’s nicely golden on the bottom, and flip soaking bread
  6. when toast is cooked on both sides, remove from pan to plate
  7. add a new pat of butter/CBG, and repeat steps 4-7 until all the slices are toasted

And a side of candied bacon for good measure

Then, when you find yourself staring at a warm, sweet stack of yum, pour some real maple syrup on top of it.  Berries, jam, or powdered sugar are acceptable alternatives, but if I find out you used artificial syrup, you will officially lose your french toast privileges.

Toast responsibly!

Cranana Bread: an experiment

I have always regarded banana bread as a Hail Mary pass against food waste: about as likely to be successful, and about as appetizing.

Gee, tell your wife I said "thanks." Or y'know... don't.

Gee, tell your wife I said “thanks.” Or y’know… don’t.

But sometimes, you’re looking through the pantry for maple syrup, and you find a bag of old bananas that are just too mooshy to eat straight.  And then you say, “Self, you’re going to do this, you’re going to have fun with it, and it’s okay if it comes out gross, because you’re going to learn from it, and you can always just throw it out, since that’s what would have happened to the bananas anyway.”

I added ginger and nutmeg for a little bit of a “spice cake” quality, and dried cranberries to give it some pizazz, and to counter that blah-mooshy-banana flavour.

And I was pleasantly surprised.  The only thing I might do differently is to substitute the dried cranberries with fresh ones, which would give a little more zing, and a more consistent texture.

Deliciousness, with a side of cream cheese.

Deliciousness, with a side of cream cheese.

INGREDIENTS:
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. softened butter
3 overripe bananas
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. cranberries (dried or fresh)

  • preheat oven to 350°, and grease and flour a 4″x8″ loaf pan
  • cream together butter and sugar, then mix in peeled bananas, eggs, and vanilla extract
  • in a separate container, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg
  • mix dry ingredients into banana goo
  • stir in cranberries to incorporate
  • bake 50-60 min. until toothpick test comes out clean
  • remove from oven, and allow to cool

Candied Bacon and the Jar of Joy

If I have a kitchen secret weapon, the kind of thing that might get its own catchphrase and facebook page, it’s this:

Better than butter.

Better than butter.

That, my friends, is run-off grease from my most recent batch of candied bacon.

Candied.  Bacon.  Grease.

Nana has always had a can of bacon grease in her kitchen.  Candying the bacon first is my personal upgrade, as is the cute little jar (instead of the traditional open tin can), but the first time my Wife saw me pouring off hot grease to save for later, she looked at me as though I had asked her to lick the floor of the refrigerator.  Then I started cooking with it, and made a convert of her.

There is almost nothing you can’t use this stuff for.  It has the extended lifespan of shortening, the melt point of butter, and the savory sweetness of bacon and brown sugar.  Need to make a roux?  Candied Bacon Grease can do that.  Baking apples?  Throw in a pat of this instead of butter.  Grease your cake pans.  Put it on a steak, a baked potato, asparagus.  Sear stew meat in it.  Saute shrimp in it.  Slather yourself with it and go swimming in the North Atlantic.*

If I save up enough of it this winter, I may use it to make the filling for a batch of whoopie pies.  I expect they will be well received.

And the candied bacon's nothing to sneeze at, either.

And the candied bacon’s nothing to sneeze at, either.

INGREDIENTS:
brown sugar (or maple sugar if you can find it)
bacon
a non-plastic container (I personally prefer a glass jar with twist lid)

  • cover a jelly roll pan, or any baking pan with a lip all the way around the edge, with tin foil
  • place one layer of bacon strips side by side on pan, edges slightly overlapping
  • coat bacon liberally with sugar
  • bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes, until bacon is curling at the edges
  • remove pan from oven, drain excess grease into a non-plastic container (try not to spill it all over your kitchen counter)
  • flip bacon, apply sugar to newly exposed side of bacon slices
  • place back in oven, continue baking 5-10 minutes until it looks cooked, but is still floppy.  It will continue to crisp after you take it out.
  • with tongs, lay bacon out on paper towels to cool and blot
  • drain as much clear grease as you can into your container, and store in the refrigerator

*I do not actually endorse this idea, though it would be hilarious to see someone try.  Dad used some weird vasoline blend in the Peaks-to-Portland race back in the ’80s.  At the very least, Candied Bacon Grease would have to be more pleasant to apply.

Pantry Soup

Once upon a time, one of my friends was battling a long, drawn out case of bronchitis.  I made him and his husband a huge batch of this chicken and veggie soup, and they demolished it in one night.  When they asked me for the recipe, I was stuck.  “Uhh… there isn’t one?”

As I’ve fed it to more and more people, I’ve gotten more and more recipe requests.  So this is me, attempting to quantify magic.

Still the only way to get me to eat greenbeans.

This is another of my mother’s concoctions, born of an expedition into the depths of the pantry and freezer to try to make space for new groceries.  I know I’ve never made it exactly the same way twice, I would be shocked if she has.  We’ve used one of those pre-roasted chickens you pick up at the grocery store, or boneless/skinless chicken breasts, or leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  You could use duck, or a family of quail (although I can’t imagine why you would want to, all those tiny bones…) or any other bird that strikes your fancy. My personal favourite was when I used an *entire* frozen chicken, giblets and all.

There’s something about pulling meat off bone by hand, and chopping up a heart, that helps you appreciate the animal you’re about to eat.  Personally, I’m also inclined to believe that it gives the soup’s healing power a little extra oomph.

INGREDIENTS:
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp vegetable oil/1 tbsp butter OR a nonstick pot
1.5 – 2 lb Bird Meat (or a 3 lb whole bird)
5 – 6 c. chicken broth/stock/bouillon
1 bay leaf
1 c. rice
14 oz. can diced or crushed tomatos, strained
6 oz. mixed frozen vegetables
recommended seasonings: black pepper/rosemary/thyme/basil/cilantro/salt only if needed/a superteeny pinch of cumin if using white meat only

  • in a large pot, sweat onions and garlic with oil, butter, or nonstick surface
  • if Bird Meat is frozen or raw, add to pot now.  If using precooked, wait.
  • add stock/broth/bouillon, 1 bay leaf, black pepper, and other seasonings to taste
  • bring pot to a boil, then hold boil until Bird Meat is cooked through
  • remove cooked/precooked Bird Meat from pot/refrigerator, and set aside
  • add rice, tomato, and frozen veggies, return to boil and set timer to rice’s recommended cook time
  • stir and sample the broth, add more seasoning if needed
  • remove and discard any bone and/or skin, then chop Bird Meat into bite sized bits, about 1/2″ – 3/4″ chunks
  • return Bird Meat to pot, until heated through and rice is done

Resist the temptation to eat straight from the pot.

There are eleventyone ways to tweak this, and almost all of them are just fine.  Only have fast-cook rice?  Set the timer for the veggies instead.  Only have an “italian herb” can of tomatos?  Adjust the other seasonings accordingly.  It is, by its essence, practical.  Use what you have.  Taste often.  Don’t stress.  Feel the love.

Lemon Tea Cookies

This is a recipe my Mom started making for the holidays when my brother and I were little, and I’m keeping it going.  After a gut-busting, gravy-and-cheese-laden feast, there may not be space for cake or pie right away, but these little guys have a biscuit fluffiness and fresh lemon zing that makes them nice and light.

I promise to get better at food photography.

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 c. milk
1 tsp fine lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice
1-3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
(Glaze)
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. lemon juice

  • preheat oven to 350°F
  • stir 2 tsp lemon juice into milk, set aside to let curdle
  • stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  • moosh butter in a large mixing bowl until softened.  Add 3/4 c. sugar and beat until fluffy, then add egg and lemon zest and mix well.
  • add flour mixture and milk mixture alternately, beating until well mixed
  • drop rounded teaspoon-sized globs onto an ungreased cookie sheet, bake 12-14 minutes until pick test comes out clean
  • stir together glaze ingredients, and brush over cookies while still warm

The glaze makes it tricky to transport these in small packages, so they’re better suited to being put out at a party than given as gifts.  Make sure you snag a couple for yourself before they disappear!

Here’s your parade.

Hi, internet!

Like many of you, I born to a white, middle class, American family.  Also like many of you, I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard a hipster mourn about how they wish they had a rich cultural tradition, or a middle aged, straight, white guy whine, “Where’s MY Pride Parade?”

I call bullshit.

Granted, it can be hard to spot the unique and defining aspects of your particular set of social constructs when everyone else around you is following the same behaviours and values, also without consciously identifying them as culture.  You don’t think of them as “traditions”, they’re just What You Do.

But guess what.  THAT’S WHAT CULTURE IS.

So as a goyish gaijin gadji gringa, I’m dedicating this little pocket of webspace to my favourite bit of my own culture: the foods that I associate with my northern New England upbringing, and my family.  Every society in the world has traditions of food sharing, and I’m happy to share my food traditions with you.