Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

A Very Pretty Thanksgiving: Cranberry-Chipotle Relish

Posted: November 20th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: A Very Pretty Thanksgiving, Johanna, Make-Ahead, delish | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

Being a native New Englander, I know the story of the first Thanksgiving very well. And even if it isn’t true, and even if Thanksgiving is a holiday to cover up the horrible, terrible things that the original Pilgrims did to the Wampanoag people, what with their smallpox and their venerial diseases….. I don’t care.

Not-Quite-Thanksgiving Dinner

It’s nice, to think that in celebration and thanks for the fact that they did not die alone in the horrible New England winter (a thing I too gave thanks for, every time it got to be spring in my childhood and I still had a pulse), my forebears sent a message to ol’ Squanto, and chief Massasoit, telling them to come hang out and bring some food and some friends. Together, said Miles Standish, we’ll all celebrate the fact that we did not die. And while there may or may not have been cranberries (although cranberries originated in Massachusetts and Maine), and there may or may not have been some gnarly old heritage turkey, I think that the Pilgrims were probably pretty happy that the Wampanoag hadn’t murdered them all yet, and had in fact helped them survive.

Along with laying an extra place for the people who might show up, and the people who are there only in spirit, my family is mindful of tradition. My father, true to his Yankee heritage, makes cranberry sauce every year, from a very nice recipe by Jeff Smith, that old preacher-man, whose ingredients are essentially, if memory serves, cranberries, oranges, and sugar. Dad, correct me in the comments if I’m wrong.

While I’ve often eaten it, I can’t say that cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts of the actual holiday table. Cranberries are tough to eat, very bitter and sour. But I’ve long been intrigued by them, and wondered if it was just me, or Jeff Smith’s pairing of them with something that could ALSO be bitter and sour. So, emboldened and embarking on a trip into the land of Thanksgiving foods, I decided that Cranberries should be tested.
Cranberry-Chipotle RelishCranberry Chipotle Relish
Via Epicurious – Bon Appetit November 2009

The ingredients here are pretty simple: 1 pkg of frozen cranberries. 1 1/3 cup of sugar. Juice of 1 lemon. 2 chipotles in adobo (don’t bother soaking a dried chipotle. Trust me.) Garlic. Cinnamon (I’m working on a replacement). Cumin.

You combine the cranberries, sugar, lemon juice, and chipotles (rinsed. trust me.) in a saucepan, and bring them to a simmer. You can put the cranberries in still frozen, I learned. Once the sugar and lemon juice have dissolved and everything is at a simmer, let it go for about 5 minutes. I mashed some of the cranberries up with a potato masher, although I also mashed some of the chipotle by mistake, but didn’t see any adverse effects.
You add the garlic, cinnamon and cumin, and simmer until things start thickening and darkening. When this happens, immediately scoop or pour your cranberry relish into a clean bowl, and rinse. out. your. saucepan. STAT.
Melted sugar, especially when combined with fruit sugars, WILL TURN TO CEMENT. It’s a fact. Sort of. Regardless, you need to wash your saucepan while the sugar is still warm, and therefore liquidy, to avoid a situation that involves you chipping caked-on sugar out of it (sidenote: anyone know how my new saucepot got a dent in it already? dub tee eff?)

Back to the relish. Once it’s in the bowl, put it in the fridge while you prepare your baked chicken and brussels sprouts (roasted with bacon and garlic. delish. who knew?? not me. this was the first time I’d ever even SEEN a brussels sprout in person. legitimately.)
So technically they're Belgian Sprouts, right? It's not about the chicken.

And there you have it! A winning update to a Thanksgiving classic, and a TON better than whatever you shake out of the can on the big day, I promise. Not to mention, I bet if you mixed this with some honey mustard, it would create a sandwich spread that would rival the delicious one that I slathered on turkey burgers last year, at the behest of my girl, Rachael Ray. Also, it keeps for ages. Make it on Saturday and put it in the refrigerator until Thursday, and you’ll have one dish less to worry about on Thanksgiving.
Simplicity in the face of chaos – that’s really what we’re looking for, isn’t it?


Sunday Brunch, Anyday

Posted: November 14th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Make-Ahead, Monthly Mingle, brunch, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

One of my favorite bloggers recently posted a recipe for Saffron shortbread cookies. And she posted it as a participant in something called the Monthly Mingle. The internet is full of blog events, from Novel Food to Daring Bakers to the BBA Challenge.

This month’s Mingle theme is brunch recipes. Now, I love me some brunch, so I decided that a heck of a time to start participating would be with brunch. So….. away we go!
Breakfast Bread PuddingWhile I love french toast or a good stack of pancakes as much as anybody, I’m much happier to put my energies into a savory brunch, and similarly much happier to eat it. Plus, it’s difficult for me to make a brunch decision out at a restaurant that doesn’t involve cheese or eggs in some way. Unless it’s corned beef hash. And honestly, cheese on corned beef hash would be delicious, but overly decadent.
And yet I digress.
We were out at a party the night before our at-home brunch, and I knew that I would be up early the following morning to go for a run (4.5 miles. ughhh). So, when we got home from the party, I threw together a Breakfast Bread Pudding, which much like a strata, can be left in the fridge overnight, fully assembled, and baked the next morning.
Breakfast Bread Pudding
1. Butter a baking dish. It can be round or oval or rectangular, 9×13 or smaller, or possibly bigger if you scale up. I used a smaller one than I planned, but any baking dish will do, as long as it has 2-inch or higher sides.
2. Tear up half a loaf of crusty bread. We used Pan Paesano from Whole Foods, which has a delicious cornmeal crust, but please feel free to leave whatever loaf of bread you want out on the counter all day, so you can tear it up at night. Rip it into bite-sized pieces, and scatter them evenly over the bottom of the dish.
3. Dice 1 small onion and 1 clove of garlic, and saute in 1 tablespoon of butter until soft. Add roughly 8 ounces of chopped crimini mushrooms, and cook until softened and starting to color. Add a pinch of salt, and season with pepper. While the mushrooms and onions cook, halve 3/4 of a pint of grape tomatoes and reserve.
4. Whisk together 6 eggs and 1 cup of milk, and season with salt and pepper. Raid your cheese selection to see what you have left in the fridge. Grate whatever looks good — in our case some leftover Madrigal baby swiss that was used in several recipes, most notably the Most Amazing Mushroom Risotto EVER. ¬†Grate 2/3 of a cup of cheese.
5. When the mushrooms are cooked, sprinkle the mushroom-onion mixture, as well as the tomatoes, over the bread chunks. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Pour in the egg mixture, and press everything down into the bottom of the baking dish. This is literally the most disgusting combination of sound and feeling ever, but persevere. Top with the rest of the cheese.
6. At this point, you could cover the bread pudding, and stick it in the fridge overnight. Otherwise, you could put it directly into a 350-degree oven for 1 hour.

You bring the champagne. I'll bring this.Call your friends up, and tell them to bring the mimosas.

Or, y’know, change out of your sweaty running clothes, thank the heavens for boyfriends who remember to put the food in the oven, and settle down on the couch with a plate of this and a cup of coffee. Your house will smell gorgeous and you will be eating a delicious meal. I suppose there might be more to life, but around 11am, I couldn’t think of a darn thing.