Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cranberry Muffins

A couple of weeks ago a relative of mine was leaving for Florida for the winter and was cleaning out their fridge for the winter and found a bag of cranberries, and some how these cranberries ended up in my freezer. I was thinking I would make home-made cranberry sauce for our Annual Turkey Dinner, but instead I made muffins.

You see I am from Massachusetts where I think the most cranberries are produced annually, at Ocean Spray in Plymouth, MA. You must understand that as a kid in school one field trip a year in Elementary School is to the Mayflower ship, Plymouth Rock, and the Ocean Spray factory. Cranberries are a very cool fruit, not only how they grow but especially how they are harvested by flooding the bogs and skimming the surface to harvest all the little berries. Berries that pack almost as much flavor in them as Pom berries from Pomegranates.

Cranberries are not always the first fruit I go to when I am making muffins. I usually think of bananas or apples, but it is fall in New England and cranberries are the in fruit now. The funny thing about cranberries, much like Toll House Chocolate Chips, there is a recipe for Cranberry Nut Bread on the package, that was the starting point to these muffins.

This is what I did ...
Cranberry Muffins
2 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup of orange juice
1 egg
2 cups of cranberries
2 teaspoons of sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin pan by lining the muffin cups.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix till combined. If you are using a mixer at this point you are finished with the "power tool." Gently fold in the cranberries, being careful not to burst any.

Put approximately 1/4 of a cup of batter in each muffin cup and sprinkle with sugar over top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until when toothpick inserted come out clean.

These muffins we found to be tart more than sweet, which is a welcoming change to the norm. You can of course always add 1 tablespoon of orange zest to punch up the orange flavor, or you could add some crushed walnuts.

Welcome Autumn in New England!!!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Almond Macaroons

Cookies, cookies, cookies I love cookies and when they are Italian cookies I love them even more than you know. I think I mentioned before that as a kid my first job was at an Italian bakery. When you work at a bakery you find your favorites and those are what you seem to eat all the time. You also get to be part of the "test kitchen" when new cakes, treats and cookies are being made for the first time.

Since I love Italian cookies I ate a lot of them, butter cookies that have sprinkles (or as we call them in Boston Jimmies) around the edges are my favorite, and in the bakery we call them champagne cookies. And my second favorite cookie is an almond Macaroon. They are crunchy on the outside and chewy in the inside. Sometimes they are topped with candied cherries, slivered almonds, or pine nuts, but I prefer them just plain and simple.

The other night I took a batch to a party my Italian family was having and there were none left on the plate at the end of the evening. It was so nice to hear my aunt ask where the cookies were purchased, when I told her they were home-made. These cookies are super easy and always come out great.

This is how to make them ...
Almond Macaroons
8 oz. can of almond paste
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs, whites only, room temperature

options: red or green cherries, toasted almond slivers, toasted pine nuts

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer combine almond paste and sugar, beat until blended. add egg whites and beat until smooth.

Scoop up 1 teaspoon and roll into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet, put slivered almonds, cherries or pine nuts on.

Bake 15-17 minutes until cookies are browned.

I have made a version of these with one tablespoon of orange zest (using only the skin of the orange), to the batter to make Almond Orange Macaroons.

So Yummy and so easy to make!!!


Chicken Barley Soup

As you all know I love soup. I love making soup, eating soup and trying new soup recipes. Soup to me is the ultimate comfort food. I think if I had the choice I would eat soup everyday. The way I look at it you get protein and veggies all in one flavorful bite. And soup always has left-overs which taste better as they age and all the flavors marry together. Thinking of this is making me salivate.

I was reading Everyday Food Magazine and I found a new way to cook chicken soup. Yes, a new way. I love my recipe for soup (which has been handed down from my grandparents), but when another comes along I will be the first to try it and not hesitate one bit. This one is a bit unique in that it has spinach and barley added.

This is what I did ...
Chicken Barley Soup
1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 carrots sliced
4 celery stalks (if they have leaves on them I add the leaves too)
1 medium onion diced
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1/2" pieces
6 cups of organic chicken broth/stock
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1 cup of quick-cooking barley
5 cups of baby spinach (one bunch)

In a large dutch oven or stock pot heat the olive oil with the celery, carrots, onion cook until tender (about 8 minutes). Add the chciken and season with salt-n-pepper and cook till chicken is browned on edges.

Add the broth/stock and thyme and bring to a boil. Stir in the barley, cover and reduce heat and simmer till barley is tender and chicken is cooked (10-12 minutes).

Last add the spinach and cook until wilted (1 minute). Season with salt-n-pepper if needed.

The spinach made this dish more veggie/green like and the barley made it more filling without adding pasta. Barley lately seems to be my new go to for fillers in soups over pasta since it is better for you and gluten free.

Try this one ... super easy to make and can be made in less than 30 minutes if you have left over chicken or a rotisserie chicken from the market. So healthy and so yummy.