Posts tagged ‘holidays’

Cranberries + Coffee Cake

Slice of cake

There are no two ways about it.  The holiday season is officially in full swing.  The past few years the holidays haven’t been all that festive for me with some stressful situations surrounding them.  However, this year I feel a bit more in the merriment mood, having been surrounded by the magic of the Christmas season at Longwood Gardens and a few timely holiday activities like ice skating, wreath making and a little soirée that included an Italian-themed potluck. 

Cranberries in a sack

The party was the perfect opportunity for me to try out this recipe from this month’s Gourmet.  I have to take a moment to thank Deb at Smitten Kitchen for leading the way though, thereby giving me more confidence to tweak it and take an untested dessert to a party.  Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake with White Chocolate Ganache did indeed pass the test with flying colors.  The cake itself is dense and rich while the layer of cranberries cuts through and cleans your palette with a zippy zing.   The drizzle of white chocolate on the top just the touch of sweetness that dresses up the cake for fancy holiday dining. 

Vanilla sugar over cranberries

Cranberries are unique to North America, I realize.  And I’ve always felt lucky to have the bogs of New Jersey, the third largest region for cranberry production in the United States, close enough to consider them local.  While they are actually harvested in October, the past two years I’ve made a point to buy  up as many local cranberries as I can find so I can freeze them to use all winter.  If you don’t have cranberries at your disposal, I suspect this cake could be made with dried cherries or an orange marmalade. 

Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake wtih White Chocolate Ganache

As an aside, I thought I’d clear up any confusion about the designation “coffee cake”.   In my experience, some folks seem to be under the impression that it has to have coffee in the recipe.  In actuality, coffee cake is really just any kind cake that gets served with coffee Months of Edible Celebrations has a great post on the history and definitions of coffee cake.  Coincidentally, I was born on National Coffee Cake Day!  Fun, eh? 


December 20, 2008 at 1:15 pm 11 comments

Vanilla Scented Madeleines & A Movie

Dunking a madeleine

Those of you who had to take a college literature class may well have read a little book by Monsieur Marcel Proust called Remembrance of Things Past.  If you had to read it from front to back – all three volumes of it – I do feel a twing of pity for you.  However, Proust did the culinary world a great service by bringing to our collective attentions “those squat plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell”.   Some have argued Proust was no wiz at cookie i.d., confusing madeleines perhaps for something more akin to a biscotti or even dry toast.  But it doesn’t really matter what Proust actually ate, does it?  What matters is that his literary work informed many a tea drinker (and let’s face it, lots of bookworms drink tea) of the existence these superb cookies for dunking in piping hot teacups. 


Now that I’ve given my intellectual spiel on the topic, let me tell you how I came to learn of dear crumbly, airy, moist madeleines.  I have a penchant for films with strong leading men who drive very fast shiny cars and choose their words wisely.  The James Bond franchise is perhaps the best-known example.  John Wayne would have been a contender if he’d swapped his horse for a sports car.  But it’s a lesser known 2002 French film that really exemplifies the genre for me. 

Madeleine form pans

The Transporter, featuring the oh-so-sexy Jason Statham, is about this stoic guy who delivers “packages” for crime lords in his immaculate black BMW.  One “package” turns out to be a Chinese girl being delivered, most likely, to her executioner.  You can guess how the plot unfolds (or better yet, rent the film) so I’ll skip to the part I’ve always loved best. The two of them end up in a little stone chateau in the French countryside, and she wakes up early to make madeleines for his breakfast.  In that moment, when he smells and tastes those freshly baked madeleines, you immediately see an endearing crack in his stoic armor.  The day after I watched the film, I went out to buy madeleine forms and found a recipe in my trusty cookie cookbook.  

Plate of madeleines

I’ve been in love with these cakey treats ever since.   Of course today, you can find them on every Starbucks countertop, but a madeleine is at its best straight out of the oven.  I make mine mostly with lemons, although oranges are also common.  The citric acid reacts with the baking powder to create lots of little air bubbles in what would otherwise be a very dense moist crumb.  It really is the perfect tea cookie texture. 


December 16, 2008 at 7:42 pm 8 comments

For Those with Resolve

A Toast 

So you ate yourself silly over the holidays, didn’t you?  Made yet another resolution to hit the gym and eat healthier?  I’m right there with you!  Come December of every year, I think I’ll be able to show at least a smidgen of will power to resist all those home-baked cookies my family puts together.  At the turn of every new year, I groan and wish I’d stayed on course.  You see, my mom, grandmother, aunts and cousins are all a bit nuts about making holiday cookies, resulting in five or six large trays full of more than 40 varieties being passed around on Christmas.  As usual, I succumbed to the buttery sugary bounty this year and now have to pay for my sins.

As such, here are my top ten picks for the healthiest, but still plenty tasty, dishes from the archives.   I’d stay and write more, but I’ve got a date with the treadmill…

1.  Candy Cane Beet Salad with Orange and Fennel is a lite lunch with plenty of vitamins to help keep your energy and health elevated.

2.  Bittersweet and Nutty Greens pack a punch of flavor and really fill you up.

3.  Carrot “Fries” with Mint are an alternative to the usual starchy fatty fries alongside your burger.  If you don’t like mint, try oregano or basil.  Change your usual beef burger to turkey or veggie and you’ll have a much healthier meal.

4. Roasted Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Mash is so ridiculously tasty, you’ll think you’re really splurging when you’re really eating super healthy. 

5. Spicy Kohlrabi and Corn is way back in the archives, from a time when I was still getting the hang of making posts pretty.  Despite its “age”, it still sticks out in my mind as one of the best healthy dishes on the blog.

6. Summer Salad with Roasted Tofu and Cumin Dressing isn’t really just for the summer season.  Locally grown lettuces and micro greens are still available even in January so this filling and warmly spiced salad is just as good in winter.

7. Butternut Squash and Pear Soup is a no-brainer for the healthy list.  What you might not expect is that it also does double-duty as an excellent healthy pasta or stir-fry sauce when you’re tired of eating soup. 

8. Pasta with Swiss Chard and Bacon is good warm for dinner or cold for lunch at your desk.  It stores well and eliminates any excuses for “I’m too busy to eat a good meal.”

9. Pumpkin Roll is a must since giving up desserts never helped anyone succeed at the diet game.  This recipe easily adapts to being low-fat and low in sugar.  Just be sure to use fat free cream cheese, a fat free egg product such as Eggbeaters, and substitute Splenda for the sugar in the cake part.

10. Fast and Fresh Mini Frittatas give you no excuse to go without breakfast, a very important meal for loosing weight.  Locally grown spinach is still available, along with other greens and mushrooms.  Or throw in whatever appeals most to you and make enough at one time for the whole week.  If you use the fat free egg product you got for the pumpkin roll, these will be full of protein and no guilt. 

January 2, 2008 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

Fad or Fab?

Pomegranate halves 

Food fads – love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s always one making the rounds.  Pomegranates seem to be the current “cool kid” and sometimes get put in recipes just for the sake of it.  Don’t get me wrong; they’re deserving of the attention but sometimes make it onto the ingredient list just for the pazzazz factor.   


Okay, I’m not going to lie to you. I became as guilty as the next fad follower when I decided to put pomegranate in this dish.  But, in my defense, once I’d thought up the combination, it seemed like parsnips and pomegranates should have always come together in one pretty little dish. 

Pomegranate seeds and juice

Butter fried parsnips in and of themselves are hardly a fad.  Instead, it seems like everyone’s grandmother made these for them as kids.  Mine didn’t, but I quickly latched on to them once I got cooking for myself.  I was also tempted to make a creamy parsnip soup – another favorite standby for using up these mildly sweet root vegetables – and drizzle it with the pomegranate reduction.  That idea might be worth a try still one of these wintery days. 

Since both parsnips and pomegranates are rather traditional Christmas fare in some parts of the world, going as far back as Roman times,  I think I can safely say this dish has the potential to be a keeper and not just another one that will go out the window when the next “cool kid” ingredient shows up on the menu. 

Butter fried parsnip slices

A Straight from the Farm Original

2 large parsnips
½ c. flour
1 t. salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
½ t. dried marjoram or oregano
¼ t. cayenne pepper
cooking spray, butter flavor preferred
4 T. unsalted butter

1 large pomegranate
¼ c. water
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. raw sugar
dash of cinnamon and nutmeg

Scrub parsnips well and peel them very lightly.  Using a mandoline or a sharp knife cut them lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices.  In a large sealable bag, combine flour and seasonings, shaking to mix. Coat both sides of parsnip slices with cooking spray and place a few at a time in the bag with the seasoned flour.  Toss until coated.  Repeat as necessary.   Set aside.

Cut pomegranate in half and scoop out a few spoonfuls of seeds and set aside.  Place a strainer over a bowl and squeeze pomegranate halves over it to release as much juice as possible.  Place juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer juice until reduced by half.  Add water, balsamic vinegar, sugar and spices.  Continue to simmer for another five minutes or until sauce begins to thicken a bit.  Remove from heat and stir in reserved seeds.

Heat butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat and let it come to a sizzle.  Add coated parsnip slices, browning on one side and then the other for about 3 minutes each.  Turn the heat down to low and cover, cooking until parsnip is fork-tender, about 4 or 5 minutes longer. 

To serve, place fried parsnip on a platter and spoon pomegranate sauce over top.  Best if served immediately.

(serves 3-4)

Butter Fried Parsnips with Pomegranate Sauce

December 23, 2007 at 12:13 pm 6 comments

’07 Holiday Gifts: Miracle Bread

Bread fresh out of the oven 

This is it – the final piece in the Straight from the Farm’s First Annual Holiday Gift Round-Up bag o’ goodies.  In truth, I hadn’t necessarily planned on making anything else.  But then I figured a package that contained this and this, two items that just begged to be spread on something right out of the bag, had better have a little something else to round it all out.  A loaf of homemade bread would do just the trick. 

I’ve been making bread since before I can remember.  I know this because my mom has a picture of me, standing on a chair that I’d pulled up to the kitchen counter, kneading dough and covered in flour from head to toe.  I’ll see if I can snag it while I’m home for the holidays to put up here for your amusement.  It certainly makes me chuckle every time I see it.   

Dry yeast package make sure your yeast rises like this before proceeding

I’ve also been using the exact same recipe since then.  It came from my mom who snagged it from who knows where.  It’s called “Miracle Bread.”  I bet you have the same question I had….why’s it called that?  I wish I had a concrete answer for you here.  I do have two of my own theories though.  The first is that this likely came out of some old church cookbook (as so many of my mom’s standbys do) and some cheeky housewife in the ‘40s thought putting “miracle” in the title would make her holier than all the other housewives.  Amusing possibility, no? 

Special kind of bread flour I tried for the first time.  It was okay. Stop mixing and start kneading the dough when it reaches this consistency

The second of my theories might be just ever so slightly more plausible, since I know for a fact it’s the truth.  I just don’t know if it’s the real reason behind the bread’s name.  See, this recipe is truly foolproof.  Besides making sure your yeast rises when you first mix it with the water, there’s no way you can mess it up – or at least I haven’t found a way yet and I’ve had my fair share of “woops!” moments with this dough over the years.  It’s also ridiculously adaptable…you can make loaves in pans, loaves of your own shaping, rolls, plain, whole wheat, rye, herbed, raisin, and even cinnamon buns.  I’m going to try to add to that list in January when I put together a Week of Bread for you.  So taking into account its indestructibility and adaptability, the bread is pretty darn miraculous. 

Dough rising in the bowl.

I used this recipe for the whole wheat rolls I made for Fred and his dulce de leche gift.  And then I decided to use it to make a very slightly sweet plain loaf to put in everyone else’s bag.  I bumped up the sugar in the liquid by a scant teaspoon to harmonize with the sweetness of the jam and dulce de leche.  The resulting loaf was proof that just a small change like that gives this bread a whole new personality.  Had I not used up all my whole wheat flour making Fred’s rolls, I might have also thought to make these loaves whole wheat with a touch of honey for the extra sweetness.  I don’t think honey matches the flavors of plain bread nearly as well, but that might just be personal taste. 

A sharp knife can be used to cut dough to make more artful bread

Making your own bread is very rewarding and, I dare say, relaxing.  Forget the bread machine – in my opinion, it’s one of the few modern appliances that takes away from (rather than adds to such as my new dishwasher does) the joy of cooking.   Kneading bread dough is very therapeutic, especially after a stressful day.  And since this recipe is so forgiving, you’ll not have any frustration messing with your “zen”. 

Bread making also allows you to control what goes into this cupboard staple, sidestepping all those questionable preservatives that make the Pepperidge Farm loaves I get last an unnatural month without molding.  A word to the wise though – since it has no preservatives, this bread generally doesn’t hold up for more than a week.  It’s typically gobbled up much faster than that though, and you can prolong its staying power by putting it in the fridge. 

Bread spread with holiday jam and dulce de leche

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ’07 Holiday Gifts and feel truly appreciated as readers.  Should I do it again in ’08?  There will be a few more recipes in 2007, but just in case you’re scooting away from your computer soon, let me wish you all happy (and tasty) holidays!   It’s been a wonderful year and wonderful having you here! 


December 20, 2007 at 11:10 am 25 comments

’07 Holiday Gifts: Fancy Jam

American Persimmons 

I have a problem.  I’m an impulse buyer.  I’m especially prone to impulsive purchases when it comes to fresh produce.  Shocking, right?  You should see how wide my eyes and how full my shopping cart get when I visit the Asian supermarket’s produce section with all its unusual fresh fare to be discovered.  It’s even worse when I visit farmers markets where I feel justified in making unplanned purchases since it supports local agriculture.  Never mind that I don’t even know what it is that I’ve just bought.  

Locally grown persimmones and cranberries

Persimmons.  Even had one?  Well, I hadn’t until one blustery day two weeks ago when I visited the die-hards at Headhouse.  Heck, I didn’t even know what persimmons looked like, let alone what to do with them.  But they looked funky (in a good – not rotten – way), and since I’m always curious about unusual local fruit I bought a pint.  I got home and put them in the bottom drawer of my fridge and forgot all about them.  That is, until I decided to make some homemade jam for my holiday gift bags.  Jam seemed the perfect, and perhaps only, use for these odd little fruits resembling tiny soft pumpkins (in my opinion at least).  You see, persimmons, or at least the American persimmons that I had purchased, are full of big seeds that impede any hungry mouths trying to gobble them down.  However, being quite sweet and soft, they do lend themselves to jams.  I also still had about two cups of cranberries left from my previous Headhouse visits.   After sluething around online for a jam that called for one of my two local fruits, I decided to toss them in a pot with some frozen strawberries and citrus to see how it would all come together. 

Insides of a persimmon

Well, there’s no doubt that the jam is mighty tasty. It’s been packaged up with homemade rolls (recipe coming Thusday) and sent on its merry way.  But I’m somewhat doubtful about any future impulsive persimmon buying.  The removal of the seeds proved quite messy, and I’m not sure the fruit’s flavor was very distinctive in the final compote.   Still, it was fun to give them a try, and I do think it’s worth the experiment if you’ve never had a persimmon before.  American persimmons are still in season here in the mid-Atlantic region since they aren’t picked until after the frost, which sweetens and ripens this atypical fruit. 

Chopped frozen strawberries

Speaking of “justifying” purchases under the banner of buying local, I’d like to encourage anyone who might be still finishing up holiday shopping to do so at a local independently-owned shop in your neighborhood.  I tried this in part last year, buying about half of my gifts away from the crushing masses of humanity otherwise known as “the mall.”  This year I bought every single gift (except for a heated mattress pad that couldn’t be had anywhere but online) from wonderfully unique shops in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill

And you know what?  Every single one of the gifts I found are superb, and the experience on a whole was actually pleasurable!  No crowds, no long lines, no traffic jams or fighting for a parking spot, no bad customer service…in fact, just the opposite.  Warm friendly shop owners happily engaged me in conversation about their wares and told me stories about why they’d thought a certain item was a good fit for their customers, myself included.  I’ve already made a mental note to be sure after the New Year to take you on a little tour of a remarkable used bookshop in Mt. Airy that makes me so happy, it almost hurts.  Spending my hard-earned cash in places like this can’t be anything but a win-win-win-win situation for me, the gift recipient, the shop owner, and the whole neighborhood! 

Holiday Sparkling Jam


December 18, 2007 at 9:09 am 19 comments

’07 Holiday Gifts: Sweet Loaves

Cranberries about to be folded into pumpkin mixture 

Come one, come all!   Welcome to Straight from the Farm’s First Annual Holiday Gift Idea Round-Up!  I want to give you all a virtual gastronomic goodie bag of holiday treats similar to the ones I’m giving my friends and family this year.  This week’s recipes will all be part of the package I’d like to put under your tree where I able to fly around the world like Mr. Clause.   I don’t think I’d like the shimmying down the chimney part though.  You’d open your front door for me, right? 

Silly dreams of trotting reindeer around the world aside, I do apologize that I was MIA for a few days while I dealt with some other pressing matters.  I wish I had some grand excuse like jetting off to Aruba, but I don’t.  While I could bore you with the mundane details, I’d rather regale you with one of the two remaining cranberry recipes I’ve been talking about since the beginning of the month.  Gosh, I’m such a procrastinator!   Forgive me. 

Chopping up cranberries

Thankfully, this cranberry pumpkin bread is worth the wait.  Two of my favorite and perfectly seasonal flavors in one moist and warmly spiced bread…it was a no-brainer addition to my holiday food gifts list.  Judging from how much time I spend dreaming up recipes and writing for this blog, you might have already guessed I’m one of those crafty people that often gives homemade gifts.  Surprisingly though, I’ve rarely given food gifts.  Instead it’s been such memorable items as hand-knit scarves, hand-bound journals, hand-sewn bags made from placemats, hand-crafted ornaments, and even a hand-crocheted baby blanket for my nephew that got stolen out of my car (!) on Christmas eve one year. 

Pumpkiny batter

This year is different though.  It’s the first year I have a blog and a more defined “foodie” personality that most of my friends and family know well so they’re kinda expecting me to show off my prowess.  Plus I had one special food gift I just had to make for my friend Fred this year and that got the ball rolling.  I can hardly wait to tell you about what I made for Fred, but I promised you these last few cranberry recipes before I get embarrassingly (or rather more embarrassingly) behind schedule. 

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

The recipe after the jump is written for two larger loaves, but I opted for five mini loaves so I’d have enough to share and to keep one for myself.  I wish I had been foresighted enough to take a picture of how I wrapped them up for final presentation.  But I wasn’t.  So here’s what I did:  after they cooled completely, I wrapped each loaf in clear plastic wrap.  Then I took a piece of parchment paper cut just short of the width of the loaf and wrapped it around the loaf, securing it with a piece of tape.  Finally, I wrapped a piece of wide maroon ribbon around the center of the loaf, foregoing a bow for a cleaner look, by securing the ribbon flat with a piece of double-sided tape.  Refer to the sloppy sketch below on the off chance that will make it any clearer.  After I’d wrapped the loaves in this manner, I sealed them in nice clear bags and placed a tag on the outside describing the bread. 


Wrap your loaves in parchment and ribbon

I can draw better than this, I swear!

By the way, this is one of those recipes that I’d love to give credit where credit is due, but alas, I’m not sure where I originally came upon it.  It’s existed for several years on a handwritten scrap of paper in my hodgepodge recipe binder.  


December 17, 2007 at 9:26 am 6 comments

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