Apple Cranberry Sauce

Likely from here through Christmas my posts will be pretty seasonal, but also more abundant. Hope you enjoy the plethora of holiday options!

Of all the dishes weighing down a typical Thanksgiving table, cranberry sauce is one of my favorites. I love all the more sour berries and a nice tart cranberry sauce is a lovely addition of color and flavor to my plate. As a kid I’d often take seconds and thirds just of cranberry sauce, and adult me is not much different. The perfect cranberry sauce is different for everyone, and the key to happiness is making it yourself so it’s just right. Maybe you’ve always been an out of the can sort of person (no judgements!) but I encourage you to try the from-scratch version this year.

Cranberry sauce is one of those things I’m absurdly picky about, and it’s rare that someone else’s recipe really strikes my fancy. I need all the cinnamon and none of the orange, thick and chunky and not too sweet. I’m not sure why orange became the traditional flavor pairing, but I personally think it too easily overpowers the rest of the flavors.

Inspired by a pie last year (check back in two weeks for that), I tried utilizing apple instead. It complements the tart cranberry perfectly, without becoming a prominent flavor. Instead of it being an obvious addition, the apple blends more smoothly into the whole profile, adding a little something without necessarily being able to pinpoint it.

I added a smidge of almond extract to round out the holiday experience, but you can certainly use vanilla if you prefer. Almond is a nice twist on tradition without straying too far from comfy, and I often utilize it in fruit pies in lieu of (or addition to) vanilla extract.

This is definitely my new go-to cranberry sauce recipe, and I’m already looking forward to making it again in a few weeks. It’s excellent both chilled and warm, resulting it an excellent make-ahead recipe. Large enough to share or to enjoy copious leftovers, so long as everyone doesn’t serve themselves the same heaping amount I tend towards.

If for some reason you’re hesitant on the apple, or want to keep to a more traditional flavor, just leave that out. It’ll still be an excellent spiced cranberry sauce with a little almond boost.

Apple Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 2.5 cups

Ingredients

3 cups fresh cranberries
1 medium apple, grated
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or one stick), to taste
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp almond extract (or vanilla)

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, stir together cranberries, apple, sugar, and water.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Stir in cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Cranberries should be a mixture of burst and whole.
  4. Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick.
  5. Stir in almond extract and, if desired, use a fork or a silly egg salad masher to mash the cranberries to your desired texture. (I like mine chunky but all burst, so I mash mine pretty well.)
  6. Allow to cool briefly before serving, optionally garnished with sliced almonds.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad

I’ve written about my favorite Italian restaurant in Bozeman, Fresco Cafe, as the inspiration for one of my grilled cheese concoctions from April. This is probably the place I go to with the most regularity, both for team lunches with work and with out-of-town visitors. It has delicious pastas and paninis, several delightful salads, and the specials are always on point. Although a semi-expensive place to dine, it is worth every single dollar to have amazing food and service every time. (As an aside, it’s also one of the few places that serves plain water rather than ice water, which is always worth a lot of points in my book.)

A couple of weeks ago during team lunch, the special salad was basically the combination of all my favorite things: bacon, bell peppers, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Served atop a bed of mixed spinach and arugula, it was one of the best salads I’ve ever had, in addition to being the perfect size for lunch. I expressed my ecstatic review, as well as requested they put it on the regular menu, which is something I’ve never actually bothered to do at a restaurant before. Since they haven’t heeded my advice yet, I set out to recreate a similar experience in my own kitchen.

It might sound plain and possibly too light, but with a slice of bread and a latte (I always get a latte at Fresco) it was properly filling without leaving me feeling overstuffed and heavy for the rest of the afternoon. Roasted red peppers are something I could eat with every meal, and you’ve probably already noticed I have a slight obsession with goat cheese (blame Costco.) Bacon and walnuts bring a little salt and a lot of protein to the dish, and a bed of leafy greens rounds out the meal nicely.

The original uses their house-made balsamic vinaigrette, but I opted to dress mine with plain balsamic vinegar from my local oil and vinegar spot. This was mostly out of laziness but also because it’s one of my favorite ways to top any savory salad. In any case, you can substitute your favorite balsamic vinaigrette or reduction in its place for a more traditional pairing.

I served mine with the bacon and peppers still warm (which will be extra great in the winter), but you could absolutely let them cool to room temperature during these excessive heatwaves everyone is having. I made myself all four servings and then each day assembled the leftovers for lunches this week. If you do the same, you could either serve it all cold or briefly reheat the bacon and peppers in the microwave before stirring it all together, as I’ve done for the past three days. Goes perfectly with a side of focaccia fresh from the Co-op.

Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad

Inspired by Fresco Cafe
Serves 4

Ingredients

8 slices bacon
2 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced

1 cup walnuts, halved

~8 cups fresh spinach & arugula (10-12 oz)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or your favorite vinaigrette or reduction)

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed cookie sheet (or two quarter sheets, if you have them) with foil. If you’re using one sheet, create an edge of foil in the middle of the pan.
  2. Arrange bacon in one half of the pan; lightly coat the other half with olive oil and arrange the peppers on top.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or to desired doneness. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain and set aside bell peppers.
  4. Spread walnuts on the bare pan and return to the oven to toast for 3-5 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, gently toss greens and balsamic vinegar (or dressing.)
  6. Divide greens into four bowls or plates – don’t scrape the mixing bowl.
  7. Gently toss bell peppers in the large bowl with leftover vinegar/dressing, then arrange on top of the greens.
  8. Slice bacon on an angle into bite-size pieces and arrange in the bowls.
  9. Top each with walnuts, goat cheese, and freshly ground pepper.
  10. Enjoy immediately, optionally garnished with a slice of bread.

Sriracha Blackberry Salad

Despite what looks like an excessive ice cream intake, during hot weather I also eat a lot of chilled salads and smoothies as a healthy way to keep cooler. With no stove or oven required, it doesn’t add heat to either me or the house, and they are quick to throw together. My fridge is always filled with an array of fresh produce, but during the summertime I make extra sure to have plenty of salad ingredients on hand.

Spinach is my go to base since I use it in everything from soups to scrambled eggs to smoothies, and there’s always a hefty bag of it from Costco. I don’t usually have a specific flavor palate in mind, but throw on whichever veggies or fruits I have lying around. I often add some raw nuts, cooked quinoa, or canned beans for extra calories and a protein boost. Tossed with a flavored vinegar or a simple dressing, it’s a delicious and filling meal and easy to throw together for a quick lunch or dinner.

Last year I concocted a lemon and berry combination that is still one of my favorites, especially with raspberries fresh from the garden. In these months before the berries have ripened, I sometimes splurge on a tray of blackberries from Costco to eat throughout the week. Delicious on yogurt or ice cream, in a smoothie, or just by the handful, it’s never a challenge to get through them on my own.

Since I love the berry and spinach combination, I decided to combine some blackberries with my newest favorite Olivelle discovery: Sriracha White Balsamic Vinegar. Still fairly sweet but with the slight kick of Sriracha flavoring, this is a more savory experience. It’s superb as a dressing all on its own, excellent as a condiment for wraps, and delightful mixed in with scrambled eggs. I’m already halfway through my rather hefty bottle, and I know I’ll be back promptly when I need a refill.

I started with my standard spinach based, and topped with fresh blackberries and sliced almonds. As I usually have goat cheese in the fridge as well (how do people live without Costco?), I added that for some creaminess and a little tang. The sweet and spicy Sriracha vinegar pulls everything together with a little kick, but not so much that it overwhelms all the other delicious flavors. This salad is great as a light meal with a side of tasty sourdough bread, but works just as well alongside a chicken or fish entrée.

For those of you that are perhaps not keen on buying specialty vinegar, I’ve included a recipe for a copycat version. It’s not a perfect match but it’s still delicious, and a bit more accessible than mail-order vinegar.

Sriracha Summer Salad
Servings: 1 entrée, or 2 sides

Ingredients

2 cups baby spinach, washed and dried
1 Tbsp Sriracha white balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup blackberries, washed and dried (and maybe halved, if you want)
2 Tbsp goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp sliced almonds

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, gently stir together spinach and Sriracha vinegar until well coated. Transfer spinach to serving dish(es).
  2. Arrange berries, goat cheese, and almonds on top, optionally drizzling with extra vinegar.
  3. Enjoy immediately as a spicy-sweet entrée for one, or as side dishes for two.

Copycat Sriracha Vinegar
Makes about 1/3 cup

Ingredients

1/2 cup high quality white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Sriracha, to taste

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, gently heat vinegar and Sriracha to a simmer, and let simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup.
  2. Whisk vigorously to mix in Sriracha (there may still be speckles.) Add more Sriracha to taste, if desired.
  3. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator, shaking or whisking before each use if spices have settled.

Summer Squash Tian

We had a brief stint of summer here, with one day reaching 92, but so far haven’t quite made it to the sustained heat I know is imminent. I am constantly torn between being grateful the heat is holding off, and lamenting the lack of heat training I can do for my upcoming summer races. In any case, as the plants in my garden sprout and grow, it makes me excited for harvest and all the lovely dishes that come with a summer bounty.

Summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squashes are some of my favorite veggies, and their relative cheapness here means I eat a ton of them throughout the summer and early fall. I add them to salads and scrambled eggs, eat them plain with hummus or pesto, and freeze them for when the weather turns me towards soups. Their neutral flavor makes them an easy addition into almost anything, as well as being a delightful standalone.

One of my favorite hot weather recipes is a simple baked dish. Summer squash and sweet potato are accented with onion and spices, then topped with a sprinkle of cheese for an easy but delicious side great for the hot months. You may be wondering how baked vegetables could possibly be warm weather appropriate, but the secret is I actually prefer this one cold! Not only does that make it easy to serve straight out of the fridge for barbecues and leftovers, but it makes for a great make-ahead meal as well.

Simple without being boring, this vegetarian concoction works great as a side dish when you get bored with salad, or as a healthy afternoon snack. For the vegan crowd, you can just leave off the cheese – it’s quite excellent without it – but you may want to add a pinch of salt to your spice mix. Briefly sautéed onions and roasted squashes bring a light sweetness to the dish, complimented with your favorite spices. This one is easy to customize to whatever you’re pairing it with: just change up the spices to match or contrast with your entrée.

I used an Italian spice blend, but you can easily concoct your own mix or just include one spice for a simpler flavor profile. Pairs beautifully with a side of grilled anything, and makes for an easy lunch since it requires no reheating. I’ll admit it’s a little messy and time-consuming to slice and vertically arrange so many items, but it’s worth it for even cooking and presentation points. I like to use a sweet potato, but if you prefer a white or red that is excellent too. The dish is easiest if you can find squashes and potatoes of roughly all the same diameter, but as you can see I have a variety of sizes in mine and it’s completely manageable.

When the over abundance of squash hits your area, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Summer Squash Tian

Adapted from Budget Bytes
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 lbs zucchini and yellow squash (about 6 medium, I used most of one of the bags Costco sells)
1 narrow sweet potato
3 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 Tbsp Miscuglio (or your favorite spice mix)

1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar and Gruyère)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a small or medium frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high.
  3. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly into the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  4. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife and a lot of patience, slice zucchini and yellow squash into approx 1/4″ slices (I used the thickest setting on my mandolin.)
  5. Using the same method, slice sweet potato into less than 1/8″ slices (I used the thinnest setting on my mandolin.) This ensures the potatoes cook in the same amount of time as the squashes.
  6. In a large bowl, combine squashes, sweet potato, 3 Tbsp olive oil, and spices. Stir until well coated.
  7. Arrange upright in rows, avoiding having large sections of the same vegetable if possible. This is messy, but worth it for even cooking and prettiness.
  8. Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove foil, top with cheese, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is to your desired level of meltiness.
  10. Let cool briefly before serving, or store in fridge and serve chilled.1

Notes

This does not reheat well but I actually prefer it cold which makes it not only a great make-ahead meal, but also a great side dish for hot summer days.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Hello from sunny South Dakota! Okay so maybe this isn’t an ideal summer destination, but since it’s where M is for his field season it’s where I find myself every couple months. Pro tip: when traveling make sure you bring a computer with an SD card reader…my new work MacBook is lacking in useful ports and I just have to say it’s a good thing M was around to let me use his computer. But I digress; let’s move back to food.

Sweet potatoes are used heavily in fall and winter dishes, but are often skipped during the summer months. This is a terrible mistake I’m here to help you rectify. As someone who lives alone most of the year but still buys sweet potatoes at Costco, I can easily eat them for every meal of the day. This recipe has the wonderful bonus of letting me have them as a mid-afternoon snack as well, which is how I spent a pleasant afternoon on a lawn in Lead.

It was a long time before I started to enjoy hummus and at first I really only liked the flavored ones, with roasted red pepper being my favorite. At this point I pretty much like all of them (excepting avocado hummus, because my “crazy” palate thinks avocados are awful) but this one is definitely my newest favorite. Chipotle and sweet potato is one of my favorite combinations and it is as excellent as ever in this one.

The standard creamy hummus texture is packed full of sweet potato, complimented by smoky and spicy adobo chipotle peppers. My low spice tolerance and I kept our version quite mild, but this recipe is supremely easy to kick it up if spicy is your thing. My version used one pepper and two tablespoons of adobo sauce, so add more of each and/or some ground chipotle if you really want it spicy.

This hummus pairs well with pretty much anything, but carrots and bell peppers turned out to be my favorite. It’s also great on a wrap or sandwich if you want to use it in more of a main dish. Its deliciousness makes it easy to eat the rainbow of vegetables any time of year, but I’m looking forward to having it with carrots right out of the garden later this summer. Admittedly I don’t currently own a full-size food processor and I borrowed one to make this hummus (thanks Amanda!), but this might be the recipe that convinces me I need my own.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron
Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp adobo sauce (from chipotle can)
1-2 chipotle peppers
juice of one lime
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder

2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato1

optional: chipotle powder, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except sweet potatoes, starting with 1 pepper and 1 Tbsp adobo sauce, in a 7-cup food processor.
  2. Pulse until mixed, scraping the sides at least twice.
  3. Add sweet potatoes and process for at least one minute, scraping the sides again, until mixture is smooth.
  4. Taste and add another pepper, more adobo sauce, or additional spices as necessary, processing again for 30-60 seconds if you do.
  5. Serve with your favorite veggies or crackers, and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Notes

To make puree: scrub 2 large sweet potatoes and stab a few holes in them. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-60 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool about 10 minutes, then remove skin and mash with a fork. Let cool to at least room temperature before using in hummus (overnight, if you want to do this part ahead of time) or plan on letting your hummus chill in the fridge for an hour or two after you make it.