Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cranberry Sauce for Thanksgiving

As much as both my parents love to cook, Thanksgiving was never a holiday we celebrated at home. Generally we went to a cousin's house and she did most of the cooking. Thanksgiving was memorable mainly because it was the day my Dad and step-mom tried to take the annual family photo, so matching outfits were required. My sisters and I were always in Laura Ashley floral dresses with lace collars and my brothers in navy blue Brooks Brothers blazers with khakis. Eventually we were too old for the matching outfits, so my step-mother tried to get us all to wear berets. I didn't understand it then and I still don't.

The only food related Thanksgiving memories I have are from the year my Dad decided to make the turkey from Gourmet the day after Thanksgiving so we could have leftovers. All I remember is that it involved deboning the turkey and my Dad muttering about trying to remember things from his time in surgery. There was a lot of swearing, and a pathetic looking turkey at the end. We never did it again.

A few years ago I started to host Thanksgiving for friends who weren't making the trip home. The largest group we ever had was 7, but it's been fun every time I've done it. Over the years I've made sweet potato gnocchi, stuffed mushrooms for vegetarians, pumpkin whoopie pies, and steak for a person who doesn't eat turkey (he's a communist), along with all the more traditional Thanksgiving items. However my favorite item is still cranberry sauce. I think it's the color or that it's the one thing I could eat the year I wasn't supposed to be eating dairy. It's the only thing that absolutely has to be on the table. This is my favorite cranberry sauce recipe that I've found. It is tart, but that's how I like it. You can add a 1/2 c. of sugar if you like yours a little sweeter.

1 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries
1 orange
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 granny smith apple, peeled and diced into small pieces
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. water

Zest and juice orange into a medium pot. Combine remaining ingredients with juice and zest over medium heat for 15 minutes until liquid is thickened and most cranberries have split. Cool and store for up to 5 days.

If you have a non stick pot, not pan, use that. Cranberry sauce is like making jelly and you'll want to soak the pot right after you pour out the sauce otherwise you'll have a sticky, nasty mess on your hands.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Holiday Season

When I was growing up my mother used to make Apricot Macadamia Nut Bread bread for everyone she knew as a holiday gift. At her peak she would make over 100 loaves of it, in batches of 3, all while listening to Handel's Messiah on a record from the 60's. I've asked her for the recipe a number of times, but she can't seem to find it anymore. Today I think I finally found it on the internet. Yes, my precious internet does know everything. This recipe calls for a bundt pan, but my mother used to make it in standard size loaf pans, but for three loaves of bread I would double this recipe. I distinctly remember 1 stick of butter per loaf of bread.

My mother stopped making the bread about 12 years ago (which coincides with me no longer being in the house to torture with the same record for 2 solid months). She claimed that it was to much work. Instead she now makes over 200 jars of apricot jam. Because that makes sense.

Apricot Macadamia Nut Fruit Cake
3/4 Cup butter (1 1/2 stick)
1 Cup sugar
3 Eggs (separated)
1/2 Cup milk
2 Tablespoons apricot brandy
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 Cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 Cup chopped dried, chopped, apricots
1 Cup golden raisins
1 Cup chopped, roasted, salted macadamia nuts
1/4 Teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 275 degree. Grease and flour 6 cup Bundt pan. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Beat yolks to blend in small bowl and add to butter mixture. Combine milk, brandy and vanilla in another small bowl. Add to butter alternately with flour in 4 batches, mixing well after each addition. Stir in apricots, raisins and nuts. Beat whites until soft peaks form. Add cream of tartar and continuing beating until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into batter. Spoon into prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean. About 2 1/4 hours. Cool completely in pan on rack. Slice and serve, or wrap with plastic and store.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Red drinks, blue drinks, and Obama cupcakes

We had a small election night party, and I had no energy to make anything other than drinks, so I ended up buying everything. Now, I love to cook, but there are days that it's just not going to happen, and somehow those days are always the ones I end up having people over. In that vein, here are my rules for buying food.

1) Don't buy anything you haven't tried before, unless they're VERY good friends. Like the kind of friends who wouldn't have any problem spitting something out and telling you it nasty. I feel like there are a number of people in my life who would do that. I'm very lucky like that.
2) Don't get more than one or two things that need to go in the oven. Room temperature food is just fine and gets you out of the kitchen and doing important things, like watching returns from Ohio.
3) Veggie or fruit trays are not necessary at any party, but it's always nice to have something a little lighter. I tend to go with fruit on a cheese tray or veggies with hummus, but don't go too overboard. It's good to have them, but they're generally the least popular thing at the party.
4) Always something salty (nuts or olives) and something sweet (mini cookies or brownies) makes it a little more rounded.
5) Making a big batch of a theme drink is very simple and makes you look more organized than you really are. (Side note - when pureeing watermelon for flavored lemonade do not use a food processor. I'm still finding pink spots in my kitchen from this summer.) For example, I made a big batch of cosmopolitans and a rum/lemonade/blue Curacao drink for election night. Party appropriate, and makes for easy serving for a long night of returns.

I would also like to commend a friend for bringing Obama themed cupcakes. They were chocolate/vanilla marbled with blue frosting. A perfect munchie for the historic night.