Friday, November 30, 2012

Brandied Cranberries

Last year's post: chicken chow mein
My friend Terry gave me a jar of these brandied cranberries a few years ago and they were delicious as well as beautiful.  Her mother Charline makes them every year when fresh cranberries are available, and she very graciously gave me the recipe as well as permission to publish it.  Thank you Charline!!  The cranberries are excellent on toast or English muffins as well as mixed with yogurt or spooned onto pancakes.  Think of them as sort of like cranberry jam, except with whole fruit.  Cranberries are full of antioxidants and early research results show that they may even increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol, although I'm not sure how that translates to cranberries cooked with sugar.  Plus, you gotta love any recipe that has only three ingredients and one is brandy.

This would make a great gift during the holiday season if you're looking to give something homemade.  The recipe is very easy and makes about 3 small jars with no hot water canning required. (I followed food safety practices by washing the jars on the high temperature cycle of my dishwasher and filling the hot jars with hot cranberries before sealing and letting them cool on the counter.) If you want to make more as gifts I would suggest making several batches as opposed to one large batch because the foil pouch of hot cranberries could become pretty unwieldy.  I've never personally been burned by hot cranberries but somehow I don't think it would be fun. 

I used to work in a pizza parlor in another life and I can tell you from direct experience that melted cheese on a pizza straight out of an 700 degree oven can give you one heck of a burn, especially when you stick your thumb directly into it (by accident).  The cranberries sort of seem similar for some reason.  I received a larger and even more impressive burn by backing into the red-hot muffler of a motorcycle with my bare leg one time in Hawaii (in yet another life) but that doesn't seem quite as similar.  Yes, I am a klutz.

click here for a printable recipe

Brandied Cranberries
Makes 3 half-pint jars

1 (16 oz) package raw fresh cranberries
2 cups white sugar
6 tablespoons brandy
Heavy duty aluminum foil
Clean glass half-pint jars
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Rinse and drain cranberries.  Put cranberries in a large bowl and toss with the sugar.
Layer two large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil on a large rimmed baking sheet and spoon the sugar and cranberries in the middle of the foil.  Fold all sides up and seal tightly.

 Bake on a center rack for 1 hour.  Open carefully and pour in the brandy, then stir gently with a spoon until all sugar is dissolved and brandy is mixed in thoroughly. 
Place in jars and let cool, then store in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Turkey and Gruyere French Dip

French Dip Au Jus is a classic sandwich normally made with beef.  This is a twist on the classic that has melted Gruyere and spinach in addition to tender turkey served with a delicious onion dipping sauce.

Although the recipe starts by cooking a turkey breast in a slow cooker, I'm publishing this post now because many of you probably have leftover turkey in your refrigerator at the moment.  This is a great way to use some of the turkey - just buy and prepare a packet of french onion soup as the dipping sauce.  Or make it even easier by buying a container of french onion soup at a local soup and salad bar.  I love turkey enough that I make this any time of the year and the slow cooker method ensures the turkey is moist and tender every time.  (Another recipe idea for leftover turkey: Wild Rice Salad )

As with many classic recipes, it's the combination of flavors and textures that makes a French Dip great - crisp french roll, rich meat, and flavorful dipping sauce that infuses everything with onion flavor.  This version is just that much better with the cheese and spinach.  Cheese makes pretty much anything better in my opinion. The baguette is briefly toasted under the broiler to melt the cheese, which also makes the bread nice and crisp. You could also certainly make this recipe by substituting leftover thin sliced roast beef or pork.

For those of you who didn't take high school French, you might not know that "au jus" actually means with juices.  Don't ask me why the name French Dip au Jus is half English and half French.  I decided to simplify and leave the au jus part off altogether.

Not only did I take French for a few years in high school, I took two ill-fated semesters of Russian in college (the second semester is the only class I've ever actually dropped out of) and a couple years of Spanish to complete my college language requirement.  All I remember as a sum total of all those years is Si, Da, Nyet, Oui, and Au Jus.   Augh.

 click here for a printable recipe

Turkey and Gruyere French Dip
Serves 6

Note:  if using leftover roast turkey, just purchase French onion soup as the dipping sauce.

 For the turkey:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 (3-pound) bone-in turkey breast

For the sandwiches:
6 individual (demi) French baguettes, sliced in half lengthwise
2-3 cups fresh baby spinach
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
12 slices Gruyere cheese

For the turkey: in a small mixing bowl, mix together the softened butter and fresh herbs.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.  Spread the chopped onions over the bottom of a slow cooker.  Pour the chicken stock and Worcestershire sauce into the slow cooker.  Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper, then slather it with herb butter, spreading half under the skin.  Place the turkey on top of the onions, breast side up.  Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours, checking the temperature after 4 hours. Once the internal temperature reaches 170d, remove the turkey from the slow cooker, transfer to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes before removing the skin and slicing thinly.

Remove the juices and onions from the slow cooker and keep warm as a dipping sauce.

For the sandwiches:  preheat the broiler.  Brush each cut side of the baguettes with softened butter and place on a baking sheet, buttered side up.  Top one side of each baguette with 2 cheese slices.  Place under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Remove from the oven and place a layer of spinach and turkey on the other half of each baguette.  Close the sandwich and serve with dipping sauce on the side.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Holiday Breakfast Strata


It's fun to make something special for a holiday morning.  This strata (basically a layered baked casserole) is perfect for several reasons: you make it the night before so all you have to do the next morning is bake it, you can scale it up or down for the number of people in your hungry horde, and it's hearty enough to keep the horde satisfied until the big meal later on. Oh, and it makes your house smell great while it's baking. All you need to complete the breakfast is some fruit, coffee and juice.  Think about this recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas morning, or if you're going to have houseguests over the holiday season or plan to host a brunch.

I'm a big fan of stratas and have tried many over the years.  I like the combination of ingredients in this one - sausage, red bell pepper, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms - because it's colorful and it tastes great.  But stratas are a lot like pizzas (everyone has their own favorite ingredients) so feel free to vary the specifics to suit the tastes of your group. You can vary the meat by substituting ham or turkey or bacon instead of Italian sausage, you can vary the cheese by substituting cheddar for Gouda, and you can choose any combination of vegetables.  Just be sure to choose at least one or two vegetables with bright colors (peppers, broccoli, etc.) for visual appeal. It's a great way to use up leftover ingredients in your refrigerator too.  I used a combination of shiitake and cremini mushrooms because that's what I had on hand; ditto the half and half combo of hot and sweet Italian turkey sausage.

The basic idea of a strata is to combine a bunch of  tasty ingredients with bread cubes, cheese, and a milk/egg custard.  The custard soaks into the bread overnight and the whole thing becomes solid when baked so it cuts easily. 

A note about mushrooms:  they're mostly water so cooking them in a pan until they release their water and are browned will intensify their flavor significantly.  I often carmelize them in this way prior to putting them a cooked dish to bring out their flavor.  Check out the "before" and "after" pictures below and you'll see how much they shrink as they release water.

Don't just cook them until they're soft - continue cooking for a few minutes after all the water has evaporated so they have a chance to brown.  That's where the flavor comes from.  For this recipe I started cooking the mushrooms first to carmelize them prior to putting the other vegetables in for just a few minutes so they wouldn't get too soft.  Remember they'll cook some in the oven also.

While the vegetables are cooking you can shred the cheese, cut up the bread, and mix the eggs, milk and seasonings.

Then you assemble the strata and refrigerate it overnight.  I decided to make a small version since The Lawyer and I were going to have it for dinner (it's equally good for breakfast or dinner).  If you have a bigger crowd you can double the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan.  Then all you have to do the next day is bake it while you make coffee and get some fruit ready.

Sausage, Asparagus & Wild Mushroom Strata
Serves 6

 Note: this recipe may be doubled and put in a 9x13” pan.

2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1” pieces
3 green onions, sliced
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
6-8 ounces wild mushrooms (shiitake or cremini), trimmed and sliced
12 ounces turkey Italian sausage (sweet, hot, or a 50/50 blend), removed from casings
½ loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1” cubes
1 ½ cups shredded Gouda cheese
6 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ¾ cups milk
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and add mushrooms.  Cook and stir until the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the asparagus and red bell pepper and sauté for 2 more minutes.  Put the vegetable mixture in a medium bowl with the green onions and sun-dried tomatoes.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet and add the Italian sausage, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks until it begins to brown and is no longer pink inside.  Add the sausage to the vegetable bowl.

While the sausage cooks, whisk the eggs and milk with the thyme, salt and pepper.

Spray a 9x9” or 9x11” pan with cooking spray.  Arrange half the bread cubes in the baking dish, then layer half the sausage and vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle with half the shredded cheese.  Add the remaining bread cubes and top with the remaining sausage and vegetables.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the strata.  Use a fork to press the sausage mixture and bread into the milk mixture until all the bread is moist.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight, reserving the remaining cheese.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake uncovered for 60 minutes, then sprinkle with the reserved cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes until the cheese melts.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting to serve.



Friday, November 2, 2012

Greek Shrimp and Orzo

The weather has definitely turned to fall lately, mostly on on the cloudy, rainy and cold side.  Personally I'd rather be lounging on a Greek Island so it's time to make this Greek Shrimp and Orzo dish and pretend.  I first made this dish many years ago when my friend Susie came over for dinner.  The reason I still remember it is because Mike the Irish Wolfhound was laying between the kitchen and dining room and Susie had to step over him.  If you're not familiar with Irish Wolfhounds, they're the tallest dog breed in the world.  Mike weighed 160 pounds and measured 8 feet from nose to tail.  Just as Susie started to step over him, Mikey decided to stand up and Susie kind of ended up riding him around the kitchen.  Pretty amusing.  Anyway, it made the evening stand out in my memory, including the fabulous baked shrimp dish.  I'm pretty sure Susie still remembers that night also. 

I have a rating system for recipes from 1 to 5 stars and never keep anything rated less than 4.5 stars (yes, I give half stars in a pinch).  My note from that night on the recipe is not only 5 stars, but I also added the comment "very excellent". Any time I add a comment like that it means I wish I could have given it even more stars.  If you like Greek food you really should try it.  Not familiar with orzo?  It's actually a small pasta shaped like rice and it's quite common in Greek cooking.  You'll find it with the other pastas in the grocery aisle.

What makes this dish great is the combination of tender shrimp, rich tomatoes, salty feta and meaty olives.  It's easy to make and it's great for entertaining or for a family meal.  It serves four so double the recipe for entertaining.  Well, unless your entertaining involves four people, of course.  :-)  Go easy on the salt because feta and kalamata olives are both salty - you can always add more at the table.

Making this dinner was a great excuse to go out and buy a pretty new gratin baking dish, which I've wanted for some time.  I debated over the color and finally chose red over blue, only to figure out that you can't even see the color in the pictures because it's only on the outside of the dish.  But I still like it, especially the oval shape.  If you don't happen to have a cool oval baking dish, just use whatever baking dish you have on hand.

click here for a printable recipe

Greek Shrimp and Orzo
Serves 4

½ medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ dry white wine
1 (14-15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
8 ounces dried orzo (pasta)
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
8 ounces feta, patted dry and crumbled
Lemon wedges for garnish

Preheat oven to 425d.

Cook onion, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes in 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring until onion is softened, about 3 minutes.  Add wine and boil until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and salt, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.  Stir shrimp into sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are barely cooked through, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook orzo in a pot of boiling water according to package directions. Reserve ¼ cup cooking water, then drain orzo in a sieve.  Return orzo to the pot and toss with remaining tablespoon olive oil.  Stir in sauce with shrimp and reserved cooking water, then add olives and salt and pepper to taste.

Spray a baking dish with cooking spray (or use oil).  Spoon half of the pasta into the dish, then sprinkle with half of feta.  Top with remaining pasta and feta, then bake uncovered in the middle of the oven for approximately 15 minutes until the pasta is heated through and the cheese is slightly melted.

Garnish each serving with a lemon wedge.