Thursday, November 30, 2006

Baked cranberry-orange preserves

From Helen Witty's wonderful Fancy Pantry (1986, Workman Publishing Co.), her "Baked Cranberry Preserves with Orange and Cardamom", with my simplification of the orange prep.

To make about 3 cups of preserves...

Preheat the oven to 350F. Gather:

4 cups cranberries
1 medium-size seedless orange
3 cups sugar
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 cup water

Spread the cranberries in an 8-inch square glass baking pan.

Zest the entire orange; remove the peel and discard; finely chop the pulp.

Mix together the chopped orange and zest, sugar, and ground cardamom. Add this mixture to the cranberries and mix thoroughly -- but if the pan is too shallow to do this, leave the mixing until the second baking stage. Sprinkle with the water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325F, uncover the dish, stir the fruit into the liquid that has formed (a large slotted spoon or pancake turner works well), and continue baking the preserves uncovered, stirring gently every 15 minutes or so, until the berries are translucent, about 45 minutes more. Don't worry that the liquid is not particularly thick; it's not important.

You may can the preserves or just spoon them into hot, clean containers, let them cool, label, and refrigerate for up to several months.

= My Notes =

It's EASY enough to zest (the hardest part) two oranges rather than one, so why not double the recipe once you know you like it. I double the batch, baking it in a 9x13-inch glass pan; Ms. Witty recommends a shallow roasting pan. The time for each baking stage is the same. I used three bags of cranberries, about 9 cups, for the 8 cups called for.

DELICIOUS as an accompaniment to turkey; spread on hot toast or muffins or pumpkin bread (toasted or room temperature); or spooned over yogurt. I have enough, thanks to doubling the recipe, that I'm going to try it over pancakes, waffles, French toast... whatever strikes my fancy. The recipe says it makes 3 cups, hmmm. With a double recipe I filled 3 half-pint jars, two miscellaneous jars (12 oz and 16 oz, I think), and half of a quart jar. Seems like more than 6 cups? I was never good at these nonmetric measures, but still.

Random food notes

From the last week or so, here are some random food notes.

Lard-based pie crust: W-O-W. Just, wow. Crispy, flaky, a great counterpoint to our standard (Libby label recipe) pumpkin custard filling made with whole milk and cream. Which, by the way, was also quite delicious. To top that pumpkin pie with fresh-whipped cream was gilding the lily, in my opinion. And it's very nice to not worry about trans fats, hydrogenated everything, and preservatives. Got my lard from the farmer through our statewide food co-op.

Friend's sweet potato casserole -- yum!! Her combination of spices, plus the star anise scattered across the top, made it extra delicious. I want the recipe.

Sugared and savory crispy nuts: Love the sugar-and-spice crispy pecans! The almonds done the same way are much too crunchy, feh. Dear husband likes the savory crispy nuts, but they're too over the top for me. I'd rather tone down the spices a little for a better balance with the nut itself.

Cornbread baked in a skillet greased with lard: oh yeah. So crispy.

Baked cranberry-orange preserves: a seasonal favorite of mine, delicious as always. Great on toasted or room-temp pumpkin bread, or spooned over plain yogurt. Mmmmm. Shall post how to make it, shortly.

Pan-grilled Cheddar sandwiches with slices of Cuban bread: looked rustic and delicious (if you liked cheese, which I do not). This is my homemade Cuban bread, a dense bread I made tonight to go with our tomato soup dinner. Dear husband said it was a completely different sandwich from grilled Cheddar on store-bought bread, and sharp Cheddar would be better. Okay, and I'm just saying -- that plate of crusty grilled sandwiches looked as though it'd be really yummy, if one were an eater of cheese.

Let it snow, snow, snow!

We started battening down the hatches yesterday morning, with firmly worded forecasts ringing in our ears -- of freezing rain, bitter cold and high wind, followed by snow. When we got up it was about 60F; by midmorning the arctic air was already pushing in and the temps had started dropping. The kids and I did some errands. Next time I'll remember bread and cereal, arrgh. At noon it was 38F (forecast for 5 pm); at 5 pm it was freezing, 32F. Did I mention the rain, all afternoon? By nightfall it was continuing... as freezing rain, at first.

Dear husband came home after work and we all snuggled in. I made enchiladas and cornbread for dinner to the sound of sleet, lots of sleet, throwing itself against all of our north-facing windows. I made lots of cranberry bread after dinner. Dear husband went to his bowling league. The boys and I went outside briefly to pick up and see what sleet really was (raindrops frozen en route to the ground, as they fell through colder air to the ground). The boys went to bed ready to dream of playing in snow.

Dear husband came home from bowling league reporting that the windward doors of the cars had been iced over, and streets were very slick. Our thoughts became how to keep the house buttoned up tight against the wind and cold, and how much snow the forecasters were expecting during the day following. Dear Husband's employer, Big University, actually decided to close due to the weather (wow!). The schools will be closed, meetings and other activities are cancelled. Due to the icy roads if nothing else, Thursday will be a stay at home day.

I woke to the sound of... sleet hitting the windows. Sigh. Neighborhood lightly covered in white stuff, probably sleet rather than snow. Son2 in tears that, with the 0F wind chill and no actual snow to play in, I was not allowing the boys outside. We amused ourselves for the morning; Dear Husband and I drank good coffee and looked at radar and generally relaxed at home while the boys played.

At lunchtime I looked outside and realized... it was snowing! Tiny little flakes, and later moderately big flakes. Steady whirling snow with wind pushing it this way and that. Hurrah! And all I can say, as a mom, is...

Yay snow! In a few moments my kids were drawn outside by the next-door neighbor kids, whose mom (as it turned out) was pulling them in a plastic sled on the slick, icy street! They thought my morning "stay inside" was for all day, oops. So the boys bundled up and there was much sled pulling, snow throwing, and general running around and fun. Then they came in and I got scarves on them (covering nose, mouth, neck), and they all headed to the park behind our house. The kids made snow angels, messed around with the snow and sleet on the playground structures, played football in the snow, etc., etc.

Last winter I shopped successfully at a discount/seconds store and got great gloves and mittens for the boys that still fit!, and a knit hat and really good coat for Son1. That means that we are actually something like prepared, wowza. No snow boots, and certainly no snow pants, but oh well. And the boys have long-john type pajamas, so they wear the long-john bottoms under their jeans.

Son2 came inside to warm up; Son1 came in about half an hour later. The snow has stopped, but I am hoping that the next hunk of snow on the radar stays active and gets to us. About 50 miles north of us there is a blizzard underway, but that's not the piece of the storm that we're getting. Neither is the ice storm to our southeast. Whew. I am thankful, and they are in my prayers. Oh! It's snowing again.

We've been eating cranberry bread and drinking hot cocoa all day, it seems. Time to plan dinner and either a yeast bread or pumpkin bread and coffeecake to help with tomorrow's breakfast. My family is a little off balance because we're out of bread and cold cereal. I'm off balance because I want more eggs. That's okay. When the roads clear -- tomorrow? Saturday? -- we'll get what we need.

Bottom line: after last winter's disappointing lack of frozen anything, I was crossing my fingers for a decently frozen interval or two, and this is great. Er, as long as we have power, haha. Yay snow!

P.S. I found a couple of coffee to-go cup sleeves that I knit last fall, and am trying them out as wrist warmers. Very nice! I think they will help tremendously in the evening when the outside temp starts to drop and the house doesn't quite feel as warm (and we don't keep it toasty in winter anyway). They're simply sock cuffs without the sock part, slipped past my hands onto my wrists.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Readying for Thanksgiving

I'm just wondering. For Thanksgiving Day or weekend, do you have plans to feast, travel, attend a church service, get together with family or with friends (or both), watch the big-city parades or football on TV, do something completely different?

We do not travel to our distant families for holidays, so we'll be at home. This is the third year we've gathered for Thanksgiving with two other families with young children who are far from their extended families, and we'll host this year; we invited a fourth family as well.

We could go to our church's Thanksgiving Eve service tonight (readings both Biblical and historical -- colonists, native Americans, historical USA, historical Oklahoma -- and Eucharist), with a pie social afterward. BUT after a couple of busy days cleaning house and cooking up a little storm, I want to hang out at home and look through the Thanksgiving reading and picture books we borrowed from the library, instead!

Our menu for tomorrow is a simple blend of my husband's and my traditions and our preferences, and a good helping of the other families' dishes:

Roast turkey, herbed bread dressing, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy (all by me)
Sweet potato casserole, green beans
Cranberry sauce, olives, various pickles
Herb bread, dinner rolls, local butter
Red wine, apple cider
Dessert: pumpkin pie with cranberry-pecan topping (by me), deep-dish apple pie, whipped cream, some sort of layered meringue dessert, good coffee with local cream, mulled cider

I think our menu says we're both Northerners, as there is no cornbread or sausage, and no grits. But we're not from the Atlantic coast -- no oysters or other seafood. No chestnuts in our dressing either. I made my favorite baked cranberry preserves today. I'll make pie crusts tonight, trying lard for the first time, make gravy using yesterday's homemade turkey stock, and gently bake to crispness my soaked pecans and almonds. Tomorrow morning I'll use my slow cooker to turn those crispy nuts into sugared almonds and spicy pecans -- mmmmm, bake the pumpkin pies (one for Thanksgiving, one for Friday breakfast!), and make the mashed potatoes and the dressing. Oh, and roast a bird! Later this weekend we'll make pumpkin bread and cranberry bread, especially because those cranberry preserves are SO GOOD on toasted pumpkin bread. Oh yeah.

Generally we go for basic, homemade, yummy, inexpensive (well, okay, except that my husband is dropping a penny or two on good beer and decent wine right now, LOL, and I already bought the good coffee and the local butter and cream). We save some pennies and luxuries for Thanksgiving and Christmas, making them truly times of feasting and food celebration.