Cranberry sauce with dried cherries

Cranberry Sauce with Dried Cherries
Thanksgiving isn’t the time for experiments. The family gathered around our table crave the classics – the flavors from childhood Thanksgivings past. But, I’m never satisfied with the classics – even new classics. I want to play. When I hit upon “The Ultimate” sweet potato casserole recipe, I swear it will be my go-to recipe for all the years to come. Yet, by next November, there are three new recipes I want to try. I’m always experimenting, always trying something new…except for my Cranberry Sauce. What could possibly be special about cranberry sauce? The C-sauce doesn’t play starring role. Frankly, it’s not even a co-star. Cranberry sauce lands somewhere in the chorus, but I couldn’t imagine my Thanksgiving table without it. And it has to be this version. The warming spice and tart cherries pair perfectly with the cranberries – elevating the sauce just so, but not too much. Classic, with a twist. So, from my Thanksgiving table to yours…

Cranberry Sauce with Dried Cherries and Cloves

Original recipe from Bon Appétit

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups cherry cider or tart cherry juice
  • 1 8-ounce package dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
  • ¼ teaspoon (generous) ground cloves

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, combine cider or juice with dried cherries. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and let stand for 8 minutes to soften cherries.
  2. Add sugar, cranberries and cloves. Cook over medium high heat until cranberries burst, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. Can be made a week in advance.

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Apricot Pocket Cookies

Apricot Cookies
SCENE ONE: 2:16 a.m. after their eighth date, a couple are entwined on the couch, an empty bottle of wine and two wine glasses are located on a table in front of them. A small bowl of homemade truffles sits between the glasses.

[kissing, kissing, kissing]

Him: “It’s late. I should probably go home soon.”

[more kissing, kissing, kissing]

Me: “Do you want to go home…or do you want to sleep here?”

[continued kissing, kissing, kissing]

Him: {silence}

Me: “It’s not a trick question.”

[more kissing, kissing, kissing]

Him: {silence}

Me: “Okay…I’ll answer for you. You want to go home.”

Him: {silence}

[kissing, kissing, kissing]

Him: “I guess I owe you some sort of apology or explanation.”

Oh god, please don’t apologize. That will make me feel like more of a lusty sexual deviant than I already do. And, as far as an explanation, what could you possibly tell me that would make me feel better about getting shot down for sex? I either don’t want to know or – if you have a valid excuse – this situation just became way too complicated for me.

I don’t let him give me an excuse, but I manage to think up a few of my own.

10 reasons he won’t sleep with me:
1) He finds me unattractive
2) He’s transgendered or gay and hasn’t worked up the courage to tell me
3) He has a secret girlfriend and he doesn’t want to “cheat” on her
4) He thinks sex will make me too “attached” [It won’t]
5) He’s bad in bed
6) He thinks I’ll be bad in bed
7) He has an STD
8) He thinks I’ll make him stop sleeping with other people [which is true]
9) I stink [armpit, cooch and breath check!]
10) He has ED or some other medical issue that precludes the horizontal mambo

SCENE TWO: It’s 6:00 p.m. the next evening. The same woman, alone, is curled up on the couch wearing her pj’s. Two cats sleep soundly beside her. On her lap is a platter of these cookies that she is devouring – one by one and without regret. Sometimes – most times, actually – the easiest company is our own.


Apricot Pocket Cookies

  • Servings: 27 cookies
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Ingredients

  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup apricot jam
  • ¼ cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips
  • 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions

  1. With an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour, mixing until just incorporated (don’t overmix).
  2. Remove the dough from the bowl and form it into a 1” thick scare. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.
  3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle 9” x 12”. Cut the dough lengthwise into 3 strips 9” x 4”. Spread each strip with apricot jam and sprinkle with walnuts. Starting from the long side, roll each strip into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice each log into 1” pieces and place on a parchment or silicon lined baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until golden brown, 22-25 minutes.
  5. To decorate, melt chocolate chips in microwave, stirring every 30 minutes until smooth, about a minute. Drizzle cookies with chocolate and dust with powdered sugar.

 

Eccles Cakes

A Plate of British Eccles Cakes
Yes, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of an Anglophile. And, with the holidays just around the corner, I don’t simply dream of a white Christmas, but a Dickensian one. I imagine a holiday with Victorian carolers strolling snow-covered cobbled streets, a cozy Cotswold cottage lit with candles and scented with crackling roast goose and steamy figgy pudding, pulling Christmas crackers with family and friends around the table, and nibbling treats like these very British Eccles cakes.

The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table.


Eccles Cakes

An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry. The origins can be traced to the town of Eccles, formerly within the Lancashire boundary, but now a suburb of Manchester. Weights are in grams, nodding to their British origin.

Ingredients

    Filling
  • 120 grams currants
  • 50 grams candied orange peel
  • 50 grams butter, softened
  • 40 grams light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • Zest of ¼ lemon
  • Juice of ½ orange
  • 1 Tablespoon brandy
  • Pastry
  • 250 grams All-purpose flour
  • 5 grams salt
  • 250 grams very cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 125 milliliters ice-water
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)

Directions

  1. Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute until butter is melted. Cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
  2. Pulse flour, salt and butter in a food processor until butter pieces are pea-sized. Gradually pulse in about 100-125ml cold water until mixture comes together into a dough. Do not overwork.
  3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold the top third down into the middle, then the bottom third up over the top, then rotate the pastry 90 degrees so the fold is now vertical. Roll out again and repeat then wrap in cling-wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, folding, rotating, rolling and folding one more time. Chill for an hour.
  4. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface a little thicker than 1/8th of an inch, then cut out rounds about 3 ½ inches wide. Put a half-tablespoon of filling in the center of each, then dampen the edges of the circle and bring the edges into the middle, pinching together to seal well. Put on a baking tray smooth side up, and squash slightly until flattened. Repeat with the rest and chill for 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove pastries from refrigerator, brush with egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut three slashes in the top of each and bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and well-risen. Allow to cool before eating – the filling will be hot.

 

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Easy Chocolate Truffles
I’ve been struggling – really struggling – to come up with header notes for my posts. I have completed stories already written; that’s not my problem. My difficulty lies in wanting to tell you about my encounter with Carlito, a charismatic Native American drug-addicted art peddler from New Mexico, and somehow tying that to my recent recipe for savory scones. I’m aware that my headers and recipes have never really synced. That red-thread between my life and my cooking has always been tangential at best. I don’t want to talk about Braeburns vs. Golden Delicious when posting an apple tart recipe – I want to tell you about the absurdity of my single girl life. But, some sort of transitional segue needs to be there – no matter how loose the connection.  There’s a file folder full of delicious anecdotes and stories, like Carlito’s, languishing on my computer like the dibs and dabs of ingredients tucked away in Tupperware on the shelves of my refrigerator, just waiting for the right moment to be used.  They never quite work with the recipe – or I forget about them.  Weeks go by and the stories become stale and moldy, never seeing the pages of this blog; eventually they’re discarded.

Speaking of those dibs and dabs, I’ve been surreptitiously sneaking spoonfuls of leftover ganache from my fridge as my nightly dessert. Yesterday, I finally decided to turn the Tupperware of half-eaten chocolate crème into something I could proudly savor in public…and serve to my guests: Chocolate Truffles. Handmade truffles look impressive, yet they are so simple to make – and a basic ganache recipe can be transformed into dozens of flavor combinations that belie the limited hands-on time in the kitchen.


Easy Chocolate Truffles

  • Servings: 2 Dozen Truffles
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The ganache can be flavored with liqueur or extracts and the finished truffles can be rolled in various coatings for flavor combinations limited only by your imagination. I kept mine classic with a straightforward chocolate ganache and coated them in cocoa powder and maple walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. dark chocolate chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • Truffle coatings like cocoa powder, finely chopped candied nuts, chocolate sprinkles, crushed cookies or peppermint crunch

Directions

  1. Place chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until completely melted (60-90 seconds). Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
  2. Using a small melon baller or spoon, scoop out truffles and roll into balls. Roll in desired coating and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Bring truffles to room temperature before serving.

Apple Cherry Tart

Apple Cherry Chinese 5-spice Tart
Me:  “What are some of your favorite things to eat?”

Him:  “I dunno, I like lots of things…I think I told you, Chocolate soufflé.”

Me:  “Yeah, but it’s difficult to keep and photograph a soufflé without it collapsing. It’s more of an à la minute dessert. What about nuts? Do you like nuts?”

Him: “Sure, I like nuts. What about a tart – a fruit tart?”

Me: “Hmmm…maybe. I could bake a tart with autumn fruit…”

We had “the talk.” That’s the talk where I explain baking for him doesn’t mean he’s earmarked for fathering my children. A cake doesn’t mean I want him to put a ring on it. Sometimes an éclair is just an éclair. I bake – it’s what I do. I bake for people I like – it makes me happy. It’s the perk of knowing me – don’t overthink it; enjoy it.

I decided on this impressive looking yet relatively simple autumn apple and dried cherry tart flavored with warming Chinese 5-spice – an ideal holiday dessert to provide the wow-factor to any table. Plus, it’s a good classic dessert when baking for a guy for the first time – who doesn’t like apples and buttery pastry?


Apple Cherry Tart

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated French Apple Tart. This easy no-roll, no-chill crust is my go-to crust for many types of tarts.

Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 4 oz. tart dried cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 10 Golden Delicious apples (about 5 lbs.), peeled and cored
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • ½ cup apricot preserves
  • ¾ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. To make the crust, adjust 1 oven rack to the lowest position and the second rack about 5” from the broiler element. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Stir together flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Add melted butter and stir until dough forms. Press dough smoothly and evenly on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Place pan on a wire rack set on a baking sheet and bake on lowest rack until golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Set aside.
  2. For the filling, cover the dried cherries with boiling water and soften until ready to use. Cut 5 apples into quarters and each quarter into 4 slices (each apple should yield 16 slices). Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apple slices, and water and stir to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until apples begin to turn translucent and slightly pliable, about 5 minutes. Spread apples on a plate in a single layer to cool. Pour any accumulated liquid from the skillet.
  3. While the apples cook, microwave apricot preserves until fluid, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Strain 3 Tablespoons of preserves through a small mesh strainer and set aside for step 7.
  4. Cut remaining apples into ½” cubes. Melt remaining 2 Tablespoons butter in skillet. Add drained cherries, remaining un-strained apricot preserves, cubed apples, Chinese 5-spice and salt to skillet. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until apples are soft, about 10 minutes. Mash apples to puree with a fork or potato masher. Continue to cook, uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated and puree is reduced to about 2 cups, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer puree to tart shell and smooth. Arrange apple slices, tightly overlapping in concentric circles with outside curve of slices pointing up (see photo above). Bake tart, still on wire rack in baking sheet, on lowest rack for about 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and heat broiler.
  6. While broiler heats, warm reserved strained preserves in microwave until fluid, about 30 seconds. Brush over apples, avoiding tart crust. Broil tart, checking every 30 seconds, and moving if necessary until apples are caramelized, about 2 minutes total. Let tart cool for 1 ½ hours before removing ring and slicing.