Monday, November 26, 2012

Cranberry Orange Preserves

Thanksgiving went by way too fast....Hubby and I arrived at Grandma's house on Tuesday night, with our cat Oliver in tow, ready to get up first thing on Wednesday morning for a full day of preparation to begin.  My cousin was also there to help so it was all hands on deck.  We...
  • made 6 pies--1 apple, 1 pecan and 4 pumpkin
  • made 3 salads--blueberry jello salad, 7 layer salad and prepped fruit salad with whipped cream and marshmallows to be put together the next day
  • made the base and topping for sweet potato casserole and traditional sweet potatoes with marshmallows, also ready for assembly the next day
  • peeled potatoes for mashed potatoes (and vacuum sealed them in a little water so they would be ready to go the next day--I love the idea of vacuum sealing them so you can avoid all that potato prep on Thanksgiving day when you are busy with a 1000 other things)
  • made 2 big pans of cinnamon rolls to be baked early Thanksgiving morning (looks like this one might be a new tradition)

Grandma had also done some serious prep before we got there...she made all the pie crusts and froze them (including making crust for turkey pot pies to be made from leftovers) and chopping all the veggies for the stuffing and the relish/veggie tray.  Not to mention all the shopping of course.  Grandma's been hosting Thanksgiving for a while now and has it all down to a science.  She makes it look so easy to pull together all these dishes, along with a traditional turkey (and a ham), for 20 people all by 1pm!  We eat early which means we have room for "second dinner" in the early evening where everyone is already anxious to break out the leftovers.  Yum.   

One of the treats that graced the Thanksgiving table this year were these cranberry orange preserves.  It was my first time working with fresh cranberries and I wasn't sure how the preserves would come out.  I'm happy to say my fears were unfounded and it was a big hit at the Thanksgiving table.  Even my 10 year old nephew couldn't stop talking about how much he liked the preserves.  It was really a nice accompaniment to the turkey and has officially turned me into a cranberry believer.  I gave away 6 of 7 jars to family members (had to keep one for myself so I could share it with you all!).

The inspiration for these preserves was Hima's Can It Up project over at All Four Burners.  Each month Hima announces an ingredient and all who are interested make a recipe featuring that ingredient that can be water bath canned.  Without Hima's pick of cranberries for November, I'm not so sure I would have taken the cranberry plunge.  Cranberries in the raw are extremely tart and somewhat bitter so I've always been hesitant to use them.  But I'm so glad I looked past that.  A little sugar (okay, a lot of sugar) and some other fruit transform these tart rubies into something really special.  So if you have a cranberry phobia, I encourage you to give these little beauties a try.  It would make a nice addition to your Christmas menu. 

I have a sneaking feeling these preserves will become another new Thanksgiving tradition right alongside those cinnamon rolls.


Cranberry Orange Preserves
from The Ginger Snap Girl

6 cups whole fresh cranberries
4 cups apples, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used honeycrisp, but you could use any combination)
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2/3 cup water
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of 2 oranges (about 1 packed full tablespoon)

Add all ingredients to a large pot and cook on medium, stirring frequently, until the mixture simmers.  Turn the heat to medium low and continue cooking until fruit is very soft and slightly thickened (this took about 20-30 minutes for me).  I like my preserves to have a smooth texture, so I used an immersion blender to puree the mixture prior to canning.  To check if your preserves have reached the right consistency, spoon a dollop onto a small plate and place the plate in the freezer for a couple of minutes.  Remove the plate from the freezer and turn it on its side.  If the preserves slide right down and look runny, you probably want to continue cooking.  If they hold their shape and only slide a little, you're good to go. 

To can your preserves, prepare jars, lids and rings by washing them with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly.  Once you start cooking your preserves, fill a pot with enough water to fully submerge all the jars and turn heat to high (note I use the same pot for preheating the jars as I do for the actual water bath).  Heating the jars allows you to ladle in the hot preserves without cracking the jars.  In small pan also heat your lids.  Have a clean ladle and tongs ready.  Once your preserves are done cooking, remove a jar from the hot water with your tongs and drain excess water.  Hold the jar with a kitchen towel while you ladle in the preserves.  Fill jars leaving a 1/4 inch of head space.  Use your tongs to carefully lift a lid out of the hot water and place it on top of the jar.  Screw on the outer ring until firmly snug, but not too tight.  Set aside on a clean kitchen towel and repeat the process, filling all your jars.  Bring your canning pot of water up to a boil and submerge each jar in the water using tongs.  Make sure jars are covered by at least 2 inches of water.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from water and set on a kitchen towel to rest, undisturbed for 24 hours. 

Makes 7 half pint jars

Monday, November 19, 2012

Salted Candied Pecans

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?  I can't believe it's just a few days away.  This year Hubby and I are going to my Grandparents house for the big feast, as we do most years.  And like last year, we are going up a day and half early to help Grandma prepare the big meal.  I'm super excited as there are few things I'd rather do than spend the entire day cooking and baking with my Grandma.  I'm already getting hungry thinking about some of my favorite dishes. 

While I have to wait a few more days for Turkey Day, I'm enjoying the flavors of the holiday now with these salted candied pecans.  I found this recipe on Desiree's blog, Steak N Potatoes Kinda Gurl--my blog assignment for this month's installment of Secret Recipe Club.  I always look forward to Secret Recipe Club so I can get to know a new blog.  I enjoyed scouring Desiree's blog and of course found several things that sounded really good.  Including a cranberry gorgonzola salad and lemon sour cream pie.  Then I came across the pecans and thought they would be delicious in a variation on Desiree's cranberry gorgonzola salad (more on this below).  And for the record, they were delicious in that salad.  But you'll have to wait a few days for the post.  Today it's all about the pecans.

I have made one other candied pecan recipe which calls for baking the pecans...resulting in a stick in your teeth kind of candied nut.  This recipe prepares the pecans on the stove top and the outcome is really more like a piece of candy vs a nut.  It's really crunchy with sweet warm flavors.  The lightly crystallized sugar coating (without being sticky) makes these so amazingly delicious.  I couldn't keep my hands off them...they just kept popping in my mouth.  Hubby likes them too.  Good thing I doubled the recipe.  I definitely prefer the stovetop method and will be adding this recipe to the keeper list. 

There's a hint of cinnamon, which gives them a little extra something special.  They pair beautifully with that variation on Desiree's salad I mentioned.  I'm calling it a harvest salad--romaine lettuce, honey crisp apple slices, dried cranberries, sliced green onions, feta crumbles and crunchy salted candied pecans finished with a balsamic vinaigrette. Or these sweet beauties could easily top a number of fall inspired desserts or sit out in a bowl for your Thanksgiving day guests to munch on.  But be warned, they are addictive so I'm pretty sure the bowl wouldn't be full for long.


Salted Candied Pecans
from Steak N Potatoes Kinda Gurl

1 cup whole unsalted raw pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Add pecans, sugar and water to a medium to large heavy bottomed bottom pan over medium heat.  When sugar dissolves, begin stirring.  Continue cooking, stirring often, until sugar becomes crystallized (looks like raw brown sugar). 

Turn heat to medium low and allow the crystallized sugar to melt and lightly brown on the bottom of the pan.  Use a heat proof rubber spatula to spoon the liquid over the pecans to coat them.  Once pecans are coated (quite a bit of crystallized sugar will remain), sprinkle on salt and cinnamon and stir a few times to evenly distribute. 

Transfer nuts in a single layer to a silpat (or parchment paper) lined baking sheet and allow to completely cool. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Turkey and Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

So the dieting isn't going so well.  Remember my simple calorie counting strategy?  Apparently it would actually help if I was actually counting (and logging) my calories.  Like everyday.  Turns out estimating calories in my head is probably not very accurate.  Since October 1st I've lost 3 pounds and gained back 2.  Not quite the results I hoped for.  Time to refocus. 

I'll be getting some healthy inspiration from my best friend Crystal's new blog, Both HalvesCrystal and I go way back.  We have been BFF's since our sophomore year in high school.  Back in the day we both used massive quantities of hairspray and may have been known to coordinate outfits on occasion.  Though we've pretty much abandoned hairspray and no longer wear matching outfits, we do have a common love of food, and more specifically, baking.

Crystal has been baking and blogging with me for the past year and half with Club:Baked.  She recently gave her blog a complete makeover and really focused her point of view.  Both Halves is about embracing and balancing a love of traditional desserts with a love of healthy clean eating.  The mast head on her blog says it all...3 beautifully stacked blocks of butter on the left and a bundle of fresh mint on the right.  She's posting raw (vegan) desserts that definitely intrigue me (an area I have a lot to learn in).  Like this totally unbaked Raspberry Ganache Fudge Cake.  Hello chocolate.  Desserts aren't the only thing on the blog menu.  I also have my eye on this healthy Italian Rabe recipe and I'm looking forward to more inspiration from my girl! 

Believe it or not today's recipe is pretty healthy, despite the fact it comes from Paula Deen (no offense Paula).  It's a Thanksgiving take on Shepherd's Pie.  The bottom layer is ground turkey, carrots, parsnips, celery and onion surrounded by a sauce of chicken stock, tomato paste and a bit of flour to thicken it.  The top is a light fluffy sweet potato mash.  It's a nice pre-cursor for the flavors to come in just a week and half when Thanksgiving arrives.  Which I can't wait for by the way.

This dish can be made ahead and baked when you are ready to eat.  It serves 8 so there are plenty for leftovers for us.


Turkey and Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Paula Deen

Serves 8

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (1-1 1/2 inches)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons of freshly chopped thyme
2 tablespoons of freshly chopped rosemary
1 pound of ground turkey (Paula uses 2 lbs)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 ounces of softened cream cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 10 ounce bag of frozen peas

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Place cut sweet potatoes in a medium sauce pan and cover with cold water and add salt to taste.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil.  Add carrots, celery, parsnips and onions and cook for about 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add ground turkey and cook until lightly browned and cooked through.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Stir in tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, flour and chicken broth and cook for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.  Add frozen peas and stir.

Meanwhile, drain the water from the potatoes and add to a large bowl.  Add in cream cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and use a hand mixer to turn the sweet potatoes into a mash.  Add some of the hot potato mixture into the eggs, to temper the eggs so the hot mixture doesn't scramble them.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place meat mixture in the bottom of your prepared baking dish.  Evenly spread sweet potatoes over the meat mixture.  Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes or until shepherds pie is bubbling and top is lightly golden.