Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Spread

When it comes to packaged English Muffins, I'm pretty much a Bay's brand girl. That said, I really have to hand it to the Thomas English muffin people for coming through this holiday season with, first, pumpkin spice, and second, cranberry. These two are mighty tasty, and put a whole new spin on breakfast for me. No, this is not a sponsored post. No, I did not get these for free. This is just a heads up about seasonal deliciousness and a clever segue into the cranberry-muffin-inspired cream cheese spread that I whipped up this morning and want to share with you.

Having recently made Spirited Cranberry Sauce as a part of my early Thanksgiving prep (into which I stirred a quarter cup of Calamondin Marmalade -- delish), I decided to combine each of these components with some toasted chopped pecans and softened cream cheese. Talk about breakfast heaven, and so simple. Imagine how wonderful this would be for Thanksgiving breakfast.  Imagine how impressed your guests will be when presented with this lovely, light meal to enjoy while you're slaving working away in the kitchen.

Spread it on a muffin, slather it on a bagel, or spread it onto a slice of bread with which you plan to make a turkey, chicken, or ham sandwich. It is wonderful, and wonderfully easy.

Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Spread

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) whole cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) orange marmalade
1 tablespoon finely chopped, toasted pecans

Place all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl.  With a hand mixer, beat at high speed until ingredients are thoroughly blended, 1-2 minutes. Serve with bagels or English muffins.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday Baskets make the perfect gift!

My mother used to start her Christmas shopping in June. She loved to do it, and would spend a lot of time shopping and looking and shopping some more in order to get the best, most appropriate, and thoughtful gifts for everyone. Me?  I start my shopping in November and, unlike my mother, I'm not a particular shopping fan, so I do a lot of mine on the Internet. I also tend to opt for a family gift rather than small items for each person who, these days, pretty much seems to have everything. A great place for this type of shopping is You read that right, Melissa's Produce, the people who bring the absolute best in organic produce to you via your local market. 

Melissa's has an extensive line of gift baskets in all price ranges and to suit absolutely everyone from the
oenophile to the gourmet to the junior chef. Want a gift of healthy snacks for the big game?  Melissa’s has you covered. Does winter weather have you longing for some remote tropical locale?  They can help with that as well with this Exotic Tropical Fruit basket. Imagine giving a gift that is at the same time nutritious, delicious, educational, and fun to boot. Imagine giving a gift that will bring joy and good health to people. Other than Legos (and the health aspect here is questionable), can you think of anything else that can fill such a large bill? Nope, me neither.

 My favorite is the Grande Medley. A variety of cuisines can be made from this fabulous assortment. Here is a listing of some of the items contained in this sturdy, reusable basket (if the item is highlighted, clink on it and it will take you to a recipe that employs its use):
Raspberry Dessert Sauce
Sun Dried Roma Tomato Pesto
Peeled Baby Red Beets
Organic Grinder Italian
Roasted Red Bell Peppers
Dried Ancho Chiles
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Roasted Sweet Corn
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Crystallized Ginger
Tamale Kit
Soy Nuts
Basmati Rice with Wild Rice Pilaf
Dried Strawberries
Dried Mango
Dried Bing Cherries
Dried Cranberries

All of this and a basket that you will use again and again. What other gift can provide such a diverse and healthful experience?
I highly recommend the Grande Medley gift basket. Give it as a gift, or treat your most deserving self. For other gift basket options look here, and start shopping!
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Disclaimer:  I was provided with this gift basket from Melissa’s Produce in exchange for a review.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tamales by Alice Guadalupe Tapp, a cookbook that makes you think.

If you are one of those people who think that you do not need yet another cookbook, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. You do need another one, you need this one. You need Tamales by Alice Guadalupe Tapp.
 I'll tell you why you need this one. You need it, not just because it taps an area that you have doubtless left unexplored, not because it is probably the definitive book on making tamales, and not because it will teach you how to make them, fold them, store them, freeze them, and even shortcuts to faster assembly. No. You need it because it is going to do what a lot of other cookbooks don't. It is going to inspire you. 
You are going to turn the pages and marvel at the fact that tamales need not be simply meat and masa. They are not just served for lunch or dinner. They are not just savory. 

Tamales are appropriate at any time of the day from morning to midnight, and tamales can be a starter, main dish or, brace yourself, dessert. 
You are going to look at this book and see your favorite hot artichoke dip turned into delicious tamales and wonder what else you can do. You will see salad become tamales (think Tuna Salad and Corn Salad), and soon you'll be wrapping chicken salad, egg salad, and perhaps even pimiento cheese salad into a tamale and steaming it on the stove. 
You will see vegetables and potatoes turned into tamales (Broccoli and Refried Beans to name two). You will find Asian inspired, French inspired, and Indian inspired varieties (Chicken Curry Tamales), vegan tamales, and those filled with meats from simple sirloin to beef cheeks to oxtail, wild boar, and tripe. 
Wondering about dessert? How about a rice pudding or Oreo tamale?
You will never look at food again without wondering how you can mound it on masa and wrap it in a husk. You will be inspired, you will think, you will engage, you will experiment. Now how many cookbooks can offer that?

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I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cranberries for Thanksgiving

Do not tell me how close we are to Thanksgiving; my nerves are just too shot to take the truth. I like to ease into holidays when I can, but this year I seem to just run smack into them, every one. For the most part, my menu is planned; I vary little from year to year. It is, after all, Thanksgiving, and I am a traditionalist. One thing that I do anguish over, however, are the cranberries. Such a simple dish, but I have found that people have very strong feelings about them. My late mother was a huge fan of my bourbon cranberry sauce. Others enjoy the frozen layered cranberries, except for my aunt who cannot abide beets and prefers the cranberry orange relish. Mr. O-P, I am loathe to admit, likes the canned stuff, slid out onto a plate and sliced up like baloney; he is singular in this interest.

See what I mean?  Choosing the right recipe can be stressful. If you have the same problem, here is an assortment of delicious versions for your perusal (Click on the name below each picture to take you to the recipe.).  You'll have to decide which to serve on your own. This year, enamored as I was with the fresh taste and fragrant aroma that the Calamondin oranges added to the homemade marmalade, I am going to add them to my cranberries, along with the usual sugar, pinch of cinnamon, and generous shot of whiskey.  Will everyone like them? I'll let you know.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Apple and Quince Crisp with Rum Raisins

I play favorites when it comes to fruits. Perhaps it's because I far prefer vegetables (weird, I know), but my fruit consumption, as a rule, is rather limited.  I tend to stick with what I know and like, peaches and blueberries at the top of my list. So when I received a bag of pineapple quince from Melissa's Produce I was a bit knocked off the track. Firstly, I had to identify them and, secondly, figure out how to use them to their best advantage.

For the uninformed (like me), a quince precedes the apple in culture, dates back to Biblical times, and may have been the actual fruit exchanged between Adam and Eve. A hard, yellowish, fragrant fruit, it comes from a tree that has its roots (if you'll pardon the pun) in the rose family.  Quinces are loaded with pectin and, as such, are exceptionally useful when making jam. The flavor is unique, being a combination of apples and pears, and it is eaten cooked wherein the white flesh becomes a blushing pink.

I searched for recipes and came upon this one. Because I was only serving a small crowd, I cut the recipe in half. Because I am more about the topping than the interior when it comes to fruit desserts, I did not cut the crisp part in half. (Grin) I also substituted brown sugar for white in the topping and added a pinch of cardamom.

A wonderful fall dessert, I like it served warm with a scoop of ice cream.  This dish is a bit labor intensive, but various components can be made a day ahead.  And, as it seems to improve with age, make it a day prior to serving and warm it in a low oven before doing so. 

Apple and Quince Crisp with Rum Raisins
Bon Appétit, November 2007
Rum Raisins:
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup dark rum

Crisp Topping:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 pounds quinces (about 5 medium), peeled, quartered, cored
4 large Gala apples, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

For rum raisins:
Simmer raisins and rum in small saucepan 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Ignite with match; let flames burn out, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer 2 tablespoons liquid to small bowl for crisp topping.

For crisp topping:
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer until butter is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Cool.

Mix flour, sugar, nutmeg, and salt in medium bowl. Add browned butter and 2 tablespoons reserved liquid from rum raisins; stir until moist clumps form. DO AHEAD: Raisins and topping can be made 1 day ahead. Cover each; chill.

For filling:
Combine 4 cups water and 3 cups sugar in large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add quinces; simmer until tender, 15 minutes. Remove from syrup; cool. Reserve syrup for another use. Cut quinces into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to large bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add apples, lemon juice, flour, salt, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and rum raisin mixture to bowl with quinces; toss to blend. Transfer to baking dish. Crumble topping over.

Bake apple and quince crisp until golden and bubbling, about 55 minutes. Cool at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with softly whipped cream or ice cream. 

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Calamondin Marmalade

There were some sad moments at the breakfast table this morning when the realization struck that we had used the last jar of my homemade marmalade. The very last spoonful of the near two dozen jars of both orange and Meyer Lemon vanilla bean were gone!  Folks, there is nothing sadder than an empty biscuit first thing in the morning.

As I dropped the spoon into the empty jar, I happened to glance into the corner of the room where the fruit-laden Calamondin orange tree stood. After a summer outside where it flourished and scented the deck with a heady aroma, it had to be brought into the house until it could return to its place next spring. How I muscled a twenty pound clay pot filled with forty pounds of soil, and a TREE into the house and avoided a hernia is another story. But there it was, humbly waiting in the corner of the room.

At that moment I remembered a recipe that my friend, Harol, (whose husband has a literal orchard of citrus on their patio) had sent me years ago along with a box of Calamondin oranges. The recipe instructed how to make a marmalade that tasted as good as homemade using Calamondins and a no cook method. I looked up that recipe, which is really nothing more than a sentence or two, and set to work.

The kitchen smelled marvelous, so fresh and sweet and citrus-y, that I had to stop what I was doing on two occasions and just breathe in the goodness. The end result was as good as I had remembered.

If you are fortunate enough to grow your own little oranges, or know someone who does, here is a recipe for fresh tasting marmalade in a matter of minutes. It's worth making for the olfactory experience alone.

Calamondin Marmalade

6-7 Calamondin oranges
1 12-oz. Jar Smucker’s orange marmalade

Wash the oranges thoroughly, scrubbing with a clean vegetable brush. Pat dry with paper towels.

Quarter the oranges and remove the seeds.

Place the seedless, quartered oranges into a mini food processor (or a regular sized one if that's all you have), and pulse until the oranges are thoroughly chopped, but not puréed.

Empty the jar of Smucker's marmalade into a medium bowl and fold in the chopped Calamondins. Turn mixture back into the original jar and put the rest in a bowl and set it on the table to enjoy.

Serve with hot biscuits.

I suspect that you could do this same thing with kumquats, using probably 8-10. Give it a try; I'm sure you can't go wrong.

Keep in mind that marmalade is good for more than slathering on a biscuit. You can also use it to top waffles, sandwich between a stack of pancakes, fold into a premade crepe, or dollop onto a bowl of oatmeal. It makes an excellent sandwich spread (on turkey, chicken, or ham) when combined with either a bit of Dijon mustard or a healthy amount of cranberry sauce. It is incredibly versatile. 

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