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Cranberry Daiquiri

December 30, 2011

It is time to toast the end of another year.  If your year was like mine it was full of a myriad of experiences and emotions.  Looking back on 2011, I would like to accept the challenges I faced and hope to gain strength from them, celebrate the happiest of moments that my family and I shared, and give thanks to all my friends and family that share my life.  I raise my glass to all of you and wish you a 2012 full of health, happiness, and prosperity!

Cranberry Daiquiris are a festive way to toast the new year.  Cranberry and lime juices are balanced with a cranberry infused simple syrup and a shot of rum.  Not to sweet, not too strong, you will want to make these by the pitcher full.   For an unexpected touch, float a couple of slices of jalapeno in each glass.   Happy New Year!

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Fuyu Persimmon Chutney

December 12, 2011

To my knowledge there are no holiday songs written about persimmons, but there should be. Persimmons hang on months after most fruit.  They wait for the frost to come before dumping their leaves and gloriously displaying their sweet orange lanterns hanging from naked limbs.  The fruit, sweet and flavorful when ripe, has an unpleasant astringent quality when eaten before they fully develop.   So I wait for it, because I love this fruit. It may be the last truly seasonal fruit, in that there is not enough demand to cause our friends in the Southern Hemisphere to begin shipping it here in the off season.  (I imagine it would be tough to sell a persimmon during the height of peach season!)

This year a friend invited me over to pick Fuyu persimmons from her tree. (Thanks A!) Fuyus are the short, squat variety that are eaten while firm.  They are not often cooked, but rather eaten raw in salads or on their own.  My mother-in-law, a fellow persimmon fan, introduced me to a recipe for using Fuyu persimmons to make a chutney.  The dense flesh retains its shape and color when cooked.  The chutney is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds that pop in your mouth with each bite.  The raisins and sugar balance the acidity of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flakes add a subtle bite.  I often serve the chutney with a soft cheese on an appetizer tray.  It also shines as a side to roast pork.  Jars filled with persimmon chutney make a welcome holiday gift.

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Sweet Potato and Bacon Gratin

November 21, 2011

Sweet potatoes are not very popular at my family Thanksgiving gathering.  There are a few of us that enjoy them, but by and large they are passed around the table and politely declined.  Even I, a professed yam lover, took years to warm to this tuber.  It was not until I had them roasted and unsweetened for the first time that I took a liking to them.  I think the added sugar is what gives sweet potatoes a bad name in some circles.  If you love those super-sweet marshmallow-covered casseroles, then more power to you, but I cannot stand them.  In my opinion, the key to a delicious sweet potato dish is to let the sweetness of the potato itself shine through and season it in a savory way instead.

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Shaved Brussels Sprout Slaw

November 6, 2011

It has been a slow transition to fall around here.  Halloween has come and passed, but until today the skies have been clear and the air relatively warm.  This must be the reason I have not yet completely embraced the hearty warm foods of the darker months.  Now daylight savings has come to an end and the rains are finally pelting down. The last of the tomatoes found their way into salsa and the eggplants into stir fries. It is time to break out the symbolic fall and winter vegetables and what better to start with than brussels sprouts in salad form?

Shaved Brussels Sprout Slaw is a bright and crisp salad.  Brussels sprouts (which are rarely served raw) are sliced very thin and tossed with red onion, a lemony mustard vinaigrette, and percorino romano cheese.  If you think you do not like brussels sprouts, be sure to give this a try.  Leaving them raw keeps them crisp and mild in flavor with none of the distinctive odor that comes from cooking them.  Serve this salad with just about anything, but I love to serve it beside some other rich saucy dish where it adds a fresh and acidic counterpoint.

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Nothing says fall like winter squash… and apples… and walnuts, so clearly this is the perfect side dish to make NOW.  We are big fans of butternut squash around here, check out the Butternut and Black Bean Salad from last year.  This year though, somehow butternut squash never made it into the ground and we are the happily storing quite a few acorn squashes that took their place in the planting beds.  There are lots of fun ways to cook up these beautiful treats, but my favorite is to make Acorn Squash Rings with Apple Glaze.

Take care in slicing the squash, as that is as good a way as any to loose a finger.  It helps to take a small slice off of one side, then place the cut side down.  That will give the squash some stability as you hack into it.  Scoop out the membrane and seeds and they are ready to steam.  Do not forget to try on some squash glasses for size!  Note: at least with my kids, they are more likely to eat the veggies if they have a hand in making/playing with them! (For more ideas on getting kids to eat their veggies check out this post.)

This recipe is not mine and if you look you will find many versions on the web.  While that may be a turn-off to some, I say it is evidence of a great recipe that is worth sharing.  My version uses non-clarified butter and less of it, but otherwise it is basically the same.  The tender squash soaks in the sweet and tangy apple glaze and the candied walnuts add a pleasant crunch.  These rings look beautiful on the plate, making it great for a weeknight dinner or special enough for a holiday. My mother-in-law first introduced me to this yummy dish with asparagus laced through the centers of the rings (as you will find is the most common version.)    I opted not to include the asparagus this time (there is no chance of finding local asparagus in October), but love the way they make this into a truly elegant side dish.  If we have any squash leftover in springtime, I will definitely add them in.  The acorn squash rings are attractive enough to stand on their own, or fill the centers with a scoop of wild rice or stuffing.

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Mango Cranberry Chutney

March 24, 2011

Have you noticed the beautiful mangoes in the market this month?  They are abundant, inexpensive, and delicious!  Mangoes have firm flesh and a sweet and tangy flavor.  This makes them incredibly versatile.  They are hardy enough to cook, soft enough to eat raw, and excellent in salads and of course chutneys.  First though, you have to know how to cut into the fruit.  Since mangoes have a disc-shaped seed in the center of fruit, it is important to locate it and cut around the seed.

First peel the fruit.

Then, hold the fruit upright and slice down, guiding the knife along the side of the seed.  Repeat on the other half, so you end up with two halves and one seed pod with minimal flesh attached.  Slice or dice the mango halves depending on what you are using it for.

Mango Cranberry Chutney is a medley of sweet mango, tart cranberry, spicy peppers and zippy ginger.  I love having a stash of it in the pantry.  It is a wonderful accompaniment to a cheese platter.  I made this batch especially to serve with Redwood Hill’s cheese at the Sono-Ma Soiree tomorrow night.  It is also delicious as a side to any Indian meal.  Try it with Divine Indian Butter Chicken.

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The other night at bedtime, my 4 year old son announced to me that he is a vegetarian.  Never mind the fact that he had just put away three helpings of chicken at dinner.  I nodded and told him he never had to eat anything that he did not want.  He asserted once more that he was a vegetarian, but then went on to tell me that he only eats bacon, hamburgers, and sausage.  Oh, I said, that kind of vegetarian.  I was amused, but also relieved.  Though I am sympathetic to vegetarians, since I refrained from meat and dairy myself for many years, it is so much easier to cook for a household that agrees to eat the same kinds of foods.  Not to mention that my husband and I just filled the freezer with many pounds of homemade sausage.  Now is not the best time to opt out of sausage in our house.

Oh, the Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart.  This is the single most soul satisfying tart I have ever made. Sausage and kale both are iconic winter fare. They dominate this tart with only minor distractions from sauteed onion, garlic, and the slightest addition of ricotta cheese. Served atop the flaky butter crust, this is a winter meal to celebrate.  Both pork and chicken sausage work equally well, as do kale and chard.  You can trade out the egg for egg white, but it really will not put much of a dent in the fat of this dish given the buttery crust.  This is not diet food.  This is late winter though, and our last chance to enjoy the decadence of the cool months before the threats of swimsuit season are upon us.  Enjoy!

Update: My Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart won for Best Dirt Cheap Dinner on food52!

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