Friday, November 25, 2011

Boozy Cranberry-Pineapple Relish

The cranberry sauce of my childhood most definitely came out of cans. While we sometimes had the jellied kind, the preferred family version involved mixing a can of whole-berry sauce with drained, crushed pineapple.

In the years since, my tastes have grown more sophisticated (or snobbier or particular, depending on your point of view) and I've turned to making my own sauce from fresh cranberries. But there's something to that combination of cranberries and pineapple. So this year for Thanksgiving, with the freedom that comes from not being a host, not being a guest, and having two kids who don't like cranberries -- and therefore don't care what I do with them -- I took to experimenting in the kitchen.

The Programmer and I were happy with the result: a grown-up cranberry sauce that riffs on my childhood memory. I recommend making this at least a day before serving, to give the flavors time to mellow. 

Boozy Cranberry-Pineapple Relish
(original recipe)

12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, sorted, rinsed, and drained
20-ounce can crushed pineapple in unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark rum

Drain the pineapple well, reserving the juice. Set aside the crushed pineapple.

Measure out 3/4 cup pineapple juice (save the extra for another use) and combine with the cranberries, brown sugar, white sugar, and rum in a smallish saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes; the cranberries will pop and break down, the liquid will get syrupy, and your kitchen will likely smell like a cocktail. Remove the relish from the heat and transfer to a bowl or storage container to cool at room temperature. The relish will thicken as it cools.

When the relish has cooled, mix in 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of the reserved crushed pineapple. Refrigerate the relish several hours to several days before serving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Grilled Cheese With Apple and Mustard

Last week I was testing out a gratin recipe that I was sure was going to be fantastic. Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, onions, ricotta cheese -- I couldn’t resist the mix of ingredients. But for the labor involved (individually cooking said chard, potatoes, and onions, for example), I needed a bigger payoff. A full hour into recipe prep I was considering chucking the whole thing for a grilled cheese sandwich.

And why not grilled cheese? There’s nothing pretentious or complicated about grilled cheese -- not when I make it, anyway. And it’s a perfect counterpoint for this overloaded food-intensive time of the year.

The next time you are in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich (hmmm, I could go for one now), I humbly suggest this combination:
  • Challah or sturdy bread, such as sourdough
  • Sharp cheddar cheese
  • A smear of Dijon mustard
  • Sliced apple, such as Cortland, Macintosh, or Granny Smith
Butter the top and bottom of the sandwich and cook in a flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted. Serve the remaining apple on the side. If you want to up the comfort food factor, finish the meal with a couple of cookies and a glass of milk.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

Photography is not my strong suit. Which means that I have to invite you all over for dinner, since the food looks much better in person.

I might serve you this. (It would help if you liked eggplant.) This was one of the most satisfying meals that The Programmer and I had last month -- several meals, actually, since Kit prefers eggplant in the form of eggplant Parmesan and Caboodle prefers that eggplant just stay at the farm and be fed to livestock.

What took the dish over the top for us is that I substituted slow-roasted fresh tomatoes for canned ones. That's less likely an option for you now (snow season! gak!) but keep this in mind for when you are inundated with tomatoes next summer or early fall: Cut a bunch of tomatoes in half or in wedges, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and bake at a low temperature -- 225 to 250 degrees F -- for about two hours. The tomatoes will begin to dry out, which concentrates their flavor. You can also roast the tomatoes at a higher temperature (say 325 degrees) for a shorter time; they will brown and caramelize along the edges.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
(Adapted from Vegetarian Times. I especially liked the original recipe's idea to place some of the vegetables on top of the mashed potatoes. This version removes the eggs, cuts down on the fat, and makes minor ingredient substitutions. Serves 6 to 8.)  

2 lbs red-skinned potatoes, peeled only if desired and cut into cubes (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup non-fat milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided use
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
2 cans (about 15 oz. each) diced tomatoes with liquid, or 1 can diced tomatoes and 2 cups of roasted fresh tomatoes
2 eggplant (about 1.5 pounds total), peeled only if desired, and cubed
About 2 Tbsp fresh herbs, chopped, to taste (I used about 1 Tbsp basil and a combination of parsley, oregano and thyme)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1 small zucchini, sliced thin

Place the cubed potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain, and mash with milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat, and stir in the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as desired.

Spread the potato mixture over the vegetables in the Dutch oven, banking it up a little along the sides and leaving an indentation in the middle.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and zucchini, and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes, or until just tender. Pile the sautéed zucchini and bell pepper into the center of the mashed potatoes.

Bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through.