Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

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My love of books started at a very young age. In one of my earliest memories, I must have been three years old, my parents had friends over and they were all sitting outside our house having a drink. It must have been past my bedtime but for some reason my mom had put me in my parents’ bed and let me sit there by myself and go through a picture book somebody had given me as a gift (maybe the friends who had come over?). The memory is very fuzzy but I remember a few things: how huge the bed seemed to me, how thrilling it was to be sitting in it, the safety I felt from the voices of my parents just outside their bedroom window, and the feeling of holding the book in my hands and flipping through the pages. I couldn’t read yet but it felt so exciting to hold this object in my hand that was filled with amazing pictures (and weird symbols I couldn’t understand) that changed every time I flipped a page.DSC04884

With my mom’s help, I learned to read a year later when I was four, so that when I started first grade at five years old (we started earlier back then), I could read comfortably and by the time I was in my early teens, when my birthday came around, the gift I wished for the most from people who’d come to my birthday party were books. I read everything I could get my hands on and with no access to a library, I was desperate for new books. When I was younger, I wanted fairy tale books, but by my mid-teens I was fully into literary fiction and science fiction books, a love that endures to this day.

Today’s recipe is actually from a little kids’ book called “Cranberry Thanksgiving.” I had never read this book as a kid (given that it’s a book about Thanksgiving, it was obviously never translated in Greek) but I found out about it and this recipe that comes from it from Steve’s sister Christine. She told me she makes this cake every year and that her three boys love it. The cake is peculiar in that it’s made using a method usually used for biscuits and scones, by cutting the butter into flour. So, you can think of it as a giant, golden scone, studded with red cranberries. The result is beautiful and delicious and yet more reason to love books and what they have to offer.

This is the last post for 2016, a year few people will look back on with affection. Let’s hope that 2017 proves to be kinder to us. Happy new year to everyone and see you again in January.DSC04901

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread – Slightly adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving

Note: The original recipe calls for equal amounts of cranberries and raisins. That’s what I used in the cake you see in the photos. However, I’ve made it with only cranberries and we prefer it that way much more. Feel free to go either way.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups light raisins (or substitute with fresh cranberries, as above)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper to help you getting the cake out.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or with your fingers, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, orange peel, and orange juice and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in cranberries and raisins (or only cranberries). The batter will be thick and there will be small pieces of butter throughout.

Spoon into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick nested in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Under-the-Sea Salad

dsc05358Thanksgiving is a time that can bring out the best and the worst in people. There’s a reason why there are so many Thanksgiving movies and Thanksgiving episodes of TV shows where family dynamics explode before the turkey hits the table. It can be a pretty stressful time. Between the forced family reunions, the blaring of football on TV, the preparation of a week’s worth of food in a day, and the eating of said food in record time, things can get a little hectic.

But it’s also a time for traditions. Yes, there’s turkey and sweet potatoes and stuffing and gravy, but every home, every family adapts their Thanksgiving meal by adding foods from their national backgrounds or dishes that someone made many years before and somehow stuck or using preparations and ingredients that are more prevalent where they live. There are as many variations of Thanksgiving dishes as there are pieces to the American quilt of immigrants and their descendants.

Steve’s family has its own tradition for the Thanksgiving dinner table. It’s called under-the-sea salad. And it’s as gloriously trashy as you can get. The ingredients alone are enough to give you an idea: lime Jello, cream cheese, canned pears, and a pinch of ground cloves (which is what Steve always calls the “secret ingredient”). It’s not Thanksgiving for Steve unless the under-the-sea salad is on the table. And don’t even try to tell him that it’s dessert. No, it’s a salad, he and his family will insist.

Truth be told, it’s absolutely delicious. Is it as artificial as our new president’s hair? Absolutely. But it’s tart and sweet and cuts right through the heaviness of the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes that are piled on your plate. Do I think you’ll all run out and buy the ingredients to make it? Absolutely not. But this coming Thursday, it will be jiggling its neon green dome right in the middle of our Thanksgiving dinner table. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Under-the-Sea Salad

Ingredients:

2 3oz packages of lime jello
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1 28oz can of pears in syrup (or two 14.5oz cans)
A heavy pinch of ground cloves

Directions:

In a large bowl prepare the jello per the package instructions but use 1/4 of a cup less water than the instructions call for. Set aside to let it cool a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Drain the pears very well and put them in a second large bowl along with the cream cheese. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the pears and cream cheese together thoroughly. Add the warm jello liquid and the cloves, stir well and pour in your favorite mould (if you don’t have a mould, you can use a metal mixing bowl). Put in the fridge and let it chill until firm.

When ready to serve, fill a very large bowl that the mould can fit in with hot tap water. Dip the bottom and sides of the mould in the hot water, careful not to get any water inside the mould, for 20-25 seconds. This will allow the salad to detach from the sides of the mould. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the top edge of the mould to help with with releasing the salad.

Place a large serving platter on top of the mould and quickly flip it to release the salad. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Apple Brown Sugar Pie

DSC04398I realized my mistake as soon as I opened the Fresh Direct box. This year, we were going to spend Thanksgiving at home for the first time in seven years. Our friend JR was coming to join us for dinner, so I was going to keep the Thanksgiving meal a little smaller than usual. Instead of making two desserts, I figured that one would be enough. I opted for apple pie. I went online the week before and ordered everything I needed, including seven Granny Smith apples that would go into the pie.
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Staring at me now, nestled next to each other inside the Fresh Direct box, were seven plastic clamshell containers, each holding four perfect, green, Granny Smith apples. I had ordered seven 4-packs of apples, giving me 28 apples. At least this time it wasn’t 28 pounds of pork. Eight of them went into the apple pie and the rest will be eaten or turned into apple sauce soon.DSC04436

I am prone to hyperbole when it comes to food, but I can honestly say this apple pie was the best I have ever made and possibly the best I have ever eaten. And so you don’t think it’s just self-delusional boasting, both Steve and JR said the same thing once they tasted it. I tried this recipe from the last issue of Bon Appétit, which calls for roasting the apple slices first, in order to remove some of their moisture, before combining them with brown sugar and butter for the pie filling. When I say butter, I mean a lot of butter. The entire pie uses almost two packets of butter. But it’s worth it. Every slice came out perfect, with no liquid drowning the pie plate. The apple filling stayed in place between the layers of buttery crust. The taste was quintessential apple pie: sweet, a little tart, with a hint of cinnamon.
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Apple Brown Sugar Pie – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Note: The pie crust recipe and method I give you here is my own variation on a recipe by Cook’s Illustrated. The vodka helps reduce the amount of gluten in the dough, keeping it tender. The rest period in the fridge is essential. A minimum of two hours, though one or two days is ideal.

Ingredients:

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup and 4 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

For the pie filling:

4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, sliced into ½-inch wedges
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Directions:

First make the crust:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Using the large teardrop holes of a grater, grate the butter into the flour one stick at a time. After each stick, use your hands to gently mix the flour and butter a little. Pour cold vodka and water in the bowl and using a fork, start mixing everything. Switch to using your hands once all the liquid has been absorbed and mix until the dough just comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and press together and flatten dough a few times until it just holds its shape but still feels a little crumbly on the edges. Split in half and shape into 1-inch thick disks. Wrap in plastic and chill at least two hours but preferable 24-48 hours.

Make the pie:

Preheat oven to 350°. Toss apples, 1 cup granulated sugar, and ¼ cup flour in a large bowl. Divide between 2 rimmed baking sheets; bake, rotating baking sheets once, until apples are just tender, 25–30 minutes. Let cool, then transfer apples and accumulated juices to a large bowl. Add butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1 heaping Tbsp. flour; toss to combine. Let come to room temperature.

Let dough sit at room temperature to soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Roll out 1 disk on a lightly floured surface to a 13″ round. Transfer to a 9″ pie dish. Lift up edges; let dough slump down into dish. Trim, leaving ½” overhang. Roll out remaining disk. Scrape apples into dish and place dough over top; trim, leaving 1″ overhang. Fold edge of top crust under bottom crust, press together to seal, and crimp. Cut 8 slits in top to vent, brush with egg, and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar. Chill pie in refrigerator until crust is firm, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°. Place pie on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; bake 30 minutes (crust should be slightly golden). Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue baking until juices are bubbling and crust is deep golden brown, 50–60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool at least 4 hours before slicing.

Quince Poached in Juice

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There is something about quince that really takes me back to my childhood. I always remember having it either as a jam or a preserve or a thick jelly-like paste, moderately sweet, something vaguely exotic about it, and with that unmistakable texture, like a thousand tiny grains in your mouth. I can’t say it was ever my absolute favorite dessert as a kid. It was probably my second least favorite, behind a preserve made from bitter green oranges called kitromilo. But it was, and is, a taste of home, as familiar as my mom’s avgolemono soup and rose-flavored ice cream.
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The funny thing is that I never actually saw an uncooked quince until I moved to the US and found it many years later at a farmer’s market. You’ll know it’s there before you see it. If the quince is ripe, it perfumes the air with the scents of apples and pears and vanilla, with a hint of something flowery (maybe cardamom?). But don’t be tempted to take a bite. Quinces are incredibly astringent when raw. But when cooked, they become sweet and soft, while changing color from white to pink and apricot hues.DSC03718

So, as you plan your Thanksgiving meal, looking at yet another variation on pecan pie and pumpkin pie, consider this: quince slices, poached in a delicately spiced juice, served with a dollop of whipped cream. It’s the dessert for that moment when everyone says they simply have no more room in their bellies. Or even better, it’s the simple breakfast for you the next morning.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
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Quince Poached in Juice – Adapted from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi

Ingredients:

2 large quinces, peeled and quartered
3½ cups pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice, or cranberry juice
5½ tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped
rind from one (preferably unsprayed) orange, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
¼ cup fresh orange juice
2 star anise pods

Directions:

Remove the core from the quince quarters. Discard half of the cores and tie the remaining half in a bundle using double-layered cheese cloth. Cut the quince quarters in half lengthwise. You will have 16 quince slices.

Place the quince slices in a large saucepan and add the juice, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, orange rind, orange juice, and star anise. Add the bundle of cores and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes until the quince quarters are soft.

Using a slotted spoon, remove quince slices and set aside. Keep lid off pan and bring back to a low boil. Cook sauce for about 30 minutes until it has reduced and is slightly thicker (the consistency of thin syrup). Remove from heat and remove and discard core bundle, rind, star anise, and vanilla bean. Return quince slices in saucepan and stir gently to coat.

Serve warm or chilled (let quince cool in syrup and chill, covered, in fridge). Top with a dollop of whipped cream, crème fraîche, or clotted cream.

Brad’s Apple Pie

DSC03515Ask anyone who’s been in the kitchen with me and they’ll tell you I can get a little bossy. I have control issues, I admit it. I’ve actually gotten better over the years. I can now watch someone else cook something and not say a word about how they are not chopping things correctly or not browning the meat enough or how their food would taste so much better with a pinch of this or that. Granted, I am sitting there having a tortured, internal dialogue with them, but at least I have learned how to shut up. Most of the time.

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Many years ago, my friend Brad was visiting from California. We were walking in the West Village when we came across a small farmers market. Since it was early fall, there were apples everywhere. “Let’s make an apple pie,” I said. Brad’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I can make my grandmother’s apple pie recipe,” he said as he started to move towards the Granny Smith apples that were piled up on a table in front of us.

“What if we used Jonagold?” I suggested. “No, my grandmother always used Granny Smiths,” Brad said. A few seconds passed. “Oohh, you know what we can do? We can add raisins and pecans,” I tried again. “No, my grandma never did that,” Brad replied, as he gave the apples to the seller to weigh. “No problem,” I said. Not a minute passed by and I said “Let’s make it a lattice pie.” “That’s not my grandmother’s recipe,” Brad said, this time sounding a little more intense. “Maple syrup?” “No.” “Cardamom?” “No!” “Pears?” “Listen, I am going to make my grandma’s recipe exactly how she always made it,” Brad finally said. It took a while but I finally got the message. I was being bossy. So, I stopped and let Brad make the apple pie exactly the way he wanted to.
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And after it cooled down and we sliced it up and I took my first bite, I was so happy that Brad didn’t let me elbow myself into his recipe. The pie was just about perfect. No fancy ingredients, no special techniques. Just apples, sugar, a little cinnamon and a crumb topping. But there is one key difference from most apple pie recipes out there. The apples aren’t sliced but they are diced. It seems to make all the difference in the world. The apples cook better, their liquid evaporates, so at the end the apple pie can be divided into slices that stay together. No messy juices filling the pie plate and no big chunks of apple to wrestle with your fork.

So, here it is. Unadulterated and not adapted: Brad’s (grandma’s) apple pie.

Ok, just a tiny bit enhanced. Brad didn’t have a recipe for a crust (we used a pre-made one) so I give you one here.

And I recently bought a bottle of boiled apple cider from King Arthur Flour, so I added a tablespoon to the apples, which you can totally omit.

What? I told you I was bossy in the kitchen. Now go make this apple pie.

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Brad’s Apple Pie

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1 ¼ cups (150 g) all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons chilled water
2 tablespoons chilled vodka

For the filling:

6-7 apples (preferably Granny Smith)
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon boiled apple cider (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

For the topping:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour

Directions:

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, whisk flour and salt. Using the large teardrop holes of a box grater, grate the butter into the flour. Using a fork, toss butter into flour. Pour chilled water and vodka over the flour mixture and toss again with fork. Test the tough. It should come together when pressed between your fingers but it will still be shaggy. If needed, add another tablespoon of chilled water.

Immediately dump dough on countertop and shape into small disk, about 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Let it rest at least 2 hours, preferably 24 hours, up to 3 days.

Roll out the crust:

Take chilled dough out of fridge. Dust countertop with flour and place dough disk on top. Dust disk with more flour and start rolling. Roll 3-4 times and turn dough 45 degrees. Roll 3-4 times and turn another 45 degrees. Roll 3-4 times and turn dough upside down. Continue this way until you’ve rolled it out to about 12 inches diameter. Work quickly and keep flouring the countertop and the dough to prevent sticking.

Place rolled out dough in a 9-inch pie plate and flute the edges. Put the pie plate in the fridge while you work on the filling.

Make the pie:

Preheat oven to 425º F. Place a large baking sheet in the oven.

Core and peel apples. Dice them into 1/4-inch pieces. In a large bowl, toss diced apples with cinnamon, sugar, and boiled cider (if using). Take pie plate out of the fridge and fill it with diced apples. There will be a lot but they cook down. Mount them in the middle. Dot with 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter.

In a medium bowl, use a pastry cutter or two forks to combine butter, brown sugar, and flour, until the mixture is combined and the butter is cut into pea sized pieces. Top the apples with the butter/sugar/flour mixture. It will be messy but make sure the apples are covered.

Bake pie on top of the baking sheet (to catch bubbling juices) for about 50-60 minutes until the topping is deep golden brown.

Let pie cool completely on wire rack before slicing and serving.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love that it’s a holiday that celebrates something really positive and universal: being thankful for all the good things in your life. How wonderful is that? Coming from a culture where every holiday is either religious or celebrating a bloody war of some kind, I immediately embraced Thanksgiving when I came to the U.S.

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When I was a young college student in the U.S., my new American friends invited me back to their homes to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. This was such a generous gesture, it made me love this country and want to be a part of it even more. I realized what actual hospitality is, when parents, who hadn’t seen their kids in months, went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and welcome in their homes during a holiday that is so family-centered.

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And then there’s the food. Thanksgiving introduced me to many new and amazing delights, like cranberry sauce and pecan pie. It also introduced me to some food traditions I never quite learned to like, like pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie, both of which I find strange (who wants dessert made from a side dish?).

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Over the years, I’ve cooked many Thanksgiving meals and have invited friends and strangers to share them with me. For the last several years, Steve and I have had our own tradition. We have our Thanksgiving in Paris, where we cook a traditional meal for all of our friends there. We get the turkey from a neighborhood butcher who cooks it for us on the rotisserie. We make everything else, including a traditional dish from Steve’s family called under-the-sea salad, a concoction of cream cheese, lime jello, and canned pears that only an American could come up with.

I don’t have that recipe for you today, but I do have a recipe that Steve makes for roasted tomatillo salsa. It’s perfect for snacking on while everyone is waiting for the turkey to finish, or while they are playing video games or watching football in the living room. The photos and preparation of this recipe post were all done by Steve.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa – Adapted from Epicurious.com

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatillos or 3 (11-ounce) cans tomatillos
3-5 fresh serrano chiles
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of half a lime

Directions:

Preheat broiler.

If using fresh tomatillos, remove husks and rinse under warm water to remove stickiness. If using canned tomatillos, drain and measure out 2 cups. Broil onion, chiles, garlic, and fresh tomatillos (do not broil canned ones) on the top rack of the oven, turning occasionally, until tomatillos are softened and slightly charred, about 10 minutes. (Smaller items, like the garlic might need to be removed early.)

Peel garlic and pull off tops of chiles. Put all ingredients in a blender, including cilantro, salt, and lime juice and purée. Chill in refrigerator and serve with tortilla chips.