Friday, December 8, 2017

10 Favorites with Fresh Cranberries

One of my favorite winter ingredients is the cranberry. Of course, you can’t do much with just one, so they are available in nice quantities for adding to recipes. They’re super tart and maybe a bit bitter, but with plenty of sugar and spice, their flavor is great. Whether I’m enjoying them as the main ingredient in a side-dish sauce surrounded by other traditional holiday meal components, or stirred into baked goods for a pop of intense flavor, I love reaching for a cup or two of fresh cranberries all winter long.

While I truly believe that there’s a special gilded resting place in every form of afterlife for the inventor of the Craisin, I’ve limited this list to recipes made with fresh cranberries. Of course, cranberries freeze very well, keeping their shape even after thawing, and keeping basically forever due to their high acidity. You can consider the frozen cranberry a direct substitute for a fresh one.

Here are 10 favorite recipes from The Messy Apron Archives that feature these pretty red jewels:

Cranberry sauce is a must on a holiday table and there are many ways to vary it. This basic Cranberry Sauce can be made with different juices or even wine.

Cranberries are great with apples and are really a wonderful addition to Apple and Cranberry Crisp, and they’re delicious in this simple Cranberry Apple Oatmeal Coffee Cake, too.

I like to stir cranberries into muffins like these Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

They’re even great stirred into Cranberry Walnut Cornbread and served with a hot bowl of chili (like this one).

Of course, cranberries can star in desserts, too, like these pucker-y tart Cranberry Bars

Puree cranberries in a blender with vinegar, oil, and some other savory ingredients, and you have a fresh and lovely Cranberry Vinaigrette, which is good on a green salad or in a heartier winter salad with grains.

I have plenty of new recipes and ideas I hope to try using perky crimson winter cranberries. I hope you’re inclined to enjoy them as much as I do in the months to come!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

There are two reasons that I don’t put much about my non-recipe life on these pages: 1) It’s boring, and 2) What I would have to say would sound suspiciously like complaining. There’s no room for complaining, just because there’s very little room for new recipes in the average day/week/month.

So, my day job has become all-consuming, which is frustrating and uncomfortable. I simply don’t get days off (including weekends and holidays), and I’m not a naturally energetic enough person to come home from work and do a bunch more stuff, like baking or writing or laundry. I’m still going to try, though.

And here’s this great baked oatmeal! There are lots of recipes out on the Information Superhighway for things like this, and for good reason. It’s easy and delicious, a satisfying breakfast with plenty of late season pumpkin flavor. (I’m not tired of pumpkin and its accompanying spices yet, but, then again, I haven’t had much chance to get overwhelmed.)

I love oatmeal, so putting some of my other favorite flavors with it and putting it in a pan for a lovely, hearty dish is super fabulous. You can customize this dish to your taste, of course. I like the pecans I put in, but you could leave them out or swap in walnuts, chocolate chips, or dried fruit. 

This dish goes together in about the time it takes to preheat the oven to bake it. If you have a bit of extra time some morning, this is a great way to meet the day. The leftovers are good reheated, too, so bake once and enjoy for a few days. That is if you have few enough people eating it to save some for later.

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

2 cups rolled oats (old fashioned or quick oats)
1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, or grease it with butter or oil.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the oats, Pumpkin Pie Spice, baking powder and salt. Toss together to combine.

3. In another bowl, beat together the sugars, milk and egg with a whisk until smooth. Whisk in the pumpkin puree.

4. Stir in the oat mixture until well combined. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes, or until set and no longer liquid in the middle. Serve warm.

Makes about 6 servings. Leftovers keep well covered in the refrigerator. Reheat to serve.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kale and Wild Rice Casserole

This recipe and this post came together through a couple of habits: a current one and an old one. The current habit has to do with flipping around on the internet looking at, bookmarking, and “pinning” recipes. I’m not sure if this is a good habit or a bad one, since it seems to take up a lot of time that might be better used cleaning the bathroom or something.

The other habit is the one I used to have when I had more time. I used to really tightly plan my meals for the week, build my grocery list according to the recipes I’d chosen (many of them discovered using habit #1), and then spending a good deal of time making delicious meals every day. Well, my life doesn’t really allow for this kind of behavior anymore, but I miss it.

And so, I dug a kale and wild rice casserole out of my internet bag of tricks and modified it to my personal taste. While I mostly made this in one cooking session, I also found ways that I could break this recipe up into a few steps that could be done ahead of time. There are some suggestions along those lines in the recipe text below.

The resulting dish is hearty and satisfying. There’s a lot of wild rice here, which I love, and its nutty chewiness goes well with the slightly bitter green kale. I liked the sharp cheddar cheese, but Gruyere or a milder Swiss cheese would be good, too. There’s just enough cheesiness and creaminess from the sauce in this dish to hold all the healthy ingredients together and give them additional rich and savory flavor. There’s a big herbal hit from the thyme in there. While I only had dried thyme on hand, fresh would be even better. Increase the amount of fresh thyme leaves to a tablespoon.

As far as habits go, I think getting back to good, solid meal plans is something worth nurturing again. A new role in my day job just made my life a bit more, let’s say, “interesting.” I’m going to need a good plan, and some make-ahead strategies like the ones in this recipe and the previous one I posted, if I’m going to avoid going hungry!

Kale and Wild Rice Casserole
Based on a recipe at Half Baked Harvest

I usually cook up a big batch of wild rice when I need it for something like this. Measure out what you need for the recipe and freeze the rest. You can cook your wild rice a couple days ahead. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8-10 cups chopped kale
1 ½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
¼ cup water, or as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cups cooked wild rice
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a 2-3 quart casserole dish with cooking spray or grease it with butter or oil. Set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Add as much of the kale as you can get in the pan and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until the kale is wilted enough to add the remaining kale (you may need to do this in a few batches.) Continue cooking the kale until it is completely wilted and tender, adding ¼ cup water or more as needed to keep the kale from getting too dry and burning in the pan.

3. Stir in the black pepper. Transfer the cooked kale to a bowl and set aside. (This can be done up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate if making ahead.)

4. In the same large skillet (cleaned) or in another one, heat the remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. (You can cook the onions at the same time as you are cooking the kale. You can also make the onions up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

5. To make the sauce, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour to make a very thick paste. Cook the paste about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk in the vegetable broth. Continue to whisk until all the flour lumps are removed.

6. Cook the sauce, stirring frequently, until it begins to boil. Boil gently, continuing to stir, for about 1 minute, or until the sauce thickens. Stir in the thyme and nutmeg. Remove from the heat. (I do not recommend making the sauce ahead of time.)

7. In a large bowl, combine the cooked wild rice, cooked kale, half of the cooked onions, and half of the cheese. Stir together and stir in the sauce.

8. Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Distribute the remaining onions over the top of the mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. (You could cover and refrigerate the entire casserole at this point and bake it the next day. Bring it as close to room temperature as you can before baking, and increase the baking time.)

9. Bake, uncovered, at 375 F for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Cover and refrigerate leftovers and reheat to serve.

Makes 6-8 main dish servings.