Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The 12 Days of Holiday Treats: Cranberry Sorbet Edition

'Tis the ultimate season for festive foods. In that spirit, I've decided to countdown the 12 remaining days to Christmas with a collection of holiday recipes, both naughty and nice. Sidebar: How is it 12 days until Christmas? Anyone else have no idea where in the world the last month went? Didn't I chow down on massive amounts of turkey, like, yesterday? Anyway...

To kick off the dozen days of Christmas delicious, I want to introduce you to what has become a December staple in my house: cranberry sorbet. This falls on the nicer side of the naughty/nice holiday food spectrum. It's fat free, albeit sugary, but has lots of fruit and is a great alternative to traditional ice cream. 

Unfortunately you need an ice cream maker for this one, but it's totally worth dusting yours off or finding one to borrow. This sorbet is tangy and slightly sweet with chunks of cranberries sprinkled throughout. Provided you don't have far to travel, it makes a great food gift that is a far departure from typical cookies or fruitcakes. 

Cranberry Sorbet
Up to 90 minutes, mostly unattended, plus several hours to freeze
Makes 3-4 cups
A Spoonful Original

  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. orange zest

1.   Combine the orange juice, water and cranberries and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until cranberries start to pop open.
2.   Once the cranberries begin to open, use a wooden spoon to mash them against the side of the saucepan. Continue to mash until most of the cranberries have been pressed.
3.   Add the sugar and orange zest and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow the liquid to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until it cooks down to a syrup-like consistency.
4.   Place the mixture in the freezer for 30-60 minutes to cool.
5.   Transfer the mixture to your ice cream maker and finish according to the machine’s instructions.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. Don’t worry about mashing up the cranberries completely at the second step. As the liquid continues to cook and the ice cream machine beats the mixture, the berries will continue to break down.
  2. You will probably need to return the ice cream to the freezer to harden after the ice cream maker has finished. If you’re using certain containers to store the ice cream, transfer it to those containers before hardening it in the freezer. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

moroccan lentils and accomplishments

Today was a textbook example of what the last days of fall should be like. The temperature outside was downright chilly, but the sky was full of abundant sunshine. On days like that the chill in the air makes you quicken your step to get back inside to the warmth, but truly, you really don't mind the cold all that much. The perfect compliment to a day like that is a bowl full of warm, yet light deliciocity.

It's amazing what a clear sky will do for my tolerance of cold weather.  Ask me how I feel about that chill in the air come February. I promise my answer will be far less cheery.

Maybe the donning of rose-tinted glasses when it came to today's weather was partially thanks to the fact that today was a big day. For the last year, I've been fighting a back injury that has put me through countless imaging tests, hours of physical therapy, a whirlwind tour of pain-controlling pharmaceuticals, and more exposure to waiting room televisions streaming Fox News than I needed in a lifetime. It's been a very long year that has only begun to show light at the end of the tunnel in the last six weeks. I'm not entirely put back together, but today for the first time in a year, I ran two miles.

Two miles may not seem like a big deal. And if you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said it wasn't. But today, two miles of not just running but the kind of run your mind gets absolutely lost in, qualified as a major accomplishment. My recovery is far from over, but this was a huge step.

After my two miles I came home to a big bowl of Moroccan Lentils. This is a recipe I've made with regularity for a couple of years now, but it's definitely best when the weather is cold. It almost reminds me of a chili with much more exotic flavors. It works well served several different ways: served atop roasted spaghetti squash, served with a large slice of bread on the side or thinned with broth or tomato juice to turn into a soup.

Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's crossing and old familiar finish line you haven't seen in far too long, or maybe it's just getting a taste of something that's as wonderful as you remember, but something has a holiday spirit of sorts running amok in this spoonful's kitchen.

Moroccan Lentils
50 minutes, 35 minutes lightly attended
Serves 4
Adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock or water
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.   Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
2.   Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomatoes, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, lentils and 1 cup of stock/water and bring the mixture to a boil.
3.   Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-35 minutes. Stir occasionally and add additional stock/water 1/2-1 cup at a time as the lentils absorb the cooking liquid. Continue to simmer and add stock/water until lentils are softened, but not mushy.
4.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Kolaches

When I was a kid in grade school, I was the student who had a compulsive need to constantly raise her hand. Always had the answer, always had to talk first... Yeah. That kid. The only problem with that was the occasional question from the teacher that went something like this: "Who has been to Zimbabwe?" *Emily's hand shoots high in the air as quickly as possible* Even though it is clear I have never been to Zimbabwe and I am in no way qualified to contribute to wherever this conversation is going, I felt compelled to feign globetrotter status.

Fast forward to adult life. Very little has changed. While I now avoid the obvious traps (instead of saying I'd been to Zimbabwe, I just act like I know a lot about it), I still fall victim to this set-up from time to time when it's a topic on which I feel I need to seem intelligent.

This past week I was trying to arrange a presentation during a coworker's training session. In order to make my offer for a power point at 8 am on a Friday a little more appealing, I offered to bring coffee and whatever breakfast treat he would like. "Kolaches" he responded. I stared back blankly. He interpreted this blank stare as me being impressed he came up with such a difficult and obscure food item. I was actually staring because I had no idea what the hell a Kolache was. I wasn't even sure what he said. I only had a string of syllables that I thought were what he said. Instead of admitting my cluelessness, I assured him I could make them (because, duh, I can make anything). I've never raced back to my laptop to call on the powers of Google quite so fast.

For those out there who are equally as ignorant about Kolaches as I was, they originated as a semi-sweet dessert in Czechoslovakia traditionally served at weddings. Basically, it's a yeast-based pastry with a fruit or savory filling inside. I am so glad I accidentally walked into a Kolache challenge because these little desserts are so very tasty! Their semi-sweet nature keeps them from being too rich, while their filling gives a great balance to the fluffy, bread-like outside. The first batch I made (per the coworker's request) were strawberry-based. I tossed in a few apple flavored ones as well.

I made them again this weekend to see if I could fix a few things with the dough I thought could be improved and used leftover cranberry relish for the filling (best use of leftover cranberry relish, ever, by the way). I've landed in a spot that I like a lot, so I want to share these with you. I'm dubbing the cranberry-stuffed version Christmas Kolaches. Even though cranberry is not a traditional filling, I think the semi-sweet dough is meant to be paired with a slightly tart inside. Plus, they're delightfully festive. I think Santa would be as happy as a clam if some of these awaited him at the bottom of your chimney this year.

Christmas Kolaches
3 hours, 2 ½ unattended
Makes 16 kolaches
Adapted from Simply Recipes

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 cup filling (see tips and tricks below)
  • Egg wash (1 egg whisked together with 1 tbsp. milk)

1.   In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast and nutmeg.
2.   In a medium saucepan combine milk, butter, sugar and salt. Heat on medium low until all of the butter is nearly melted.
3.   Add the contents of the saucepan to the mixing bowl along with the eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. Using a dough hook, beat on low speed, scraping sides of the bowl until ingredients are combined. Beat on a medium-high speed for three minutes.
4.   Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth. Coat the mixing bowl with nonstick spray, return the dough to the bowl and cover. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
5.   Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Punch the dough down and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal parts.
6.   Roll the dough as close to 16” x 8” as possible (your dough should be about 1/8” thick). Cut the dough into 8 4”x 4” squares.
7.   Spoon a tablespoon of filling into the center of the dough. Brush the outside of the square with your egg wash, fold the four corners together in center and pinch to seal the kolache. Place a toothpick through the sealed corners to ensure they stay together.
8.   Preheat the oven to 375. Place the kolaches on the stovetop, covered, and allow them to rise for 30 minutes.
9.   Brush the remainder of the egg wash over the kolaches. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. The Christmas Kolaches are filled with cranberry relish made with 1 cup of finely chopped cranberries, 1-2 tbsp. of sugar and 2 tsp. orange juice. For an apple filling, dice 1 cup of peeled apples and combine with 2 tsp. brown sugar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg and 2 tsp. apple juice. For a strawberry filling, dice 1 cup of strawberries and combine with 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 tsp. water.
  2. If you secure the kolaches with toothpicks you can place them through the top and angled towards the bottom of the kolache or you can skewer them straight through the top with the toothpick parallel to the surface of the pan. The latter is more secure, but more difficult to remove once they’re baked. Either one should do the trick.
  3. To make sure I'm actually cutting 4"x4" squares (because you know I'm terrible at eyeballing it), I use a yardstick (a ruler would be fine, too) to measure and rolling pizza slicer to cut straight lines. It might sound excessive, but it's very easy and accurate. If you're off a bit here and there it won't matter too much, just make sure it's still a square. If it's too rectangular, fillings tend to fall out when you pull the corners together.