Cranberries, meet Apples

Ah beautiful cranberries,  ruby red jewels of the holiday season…

Courtesy Oregon Cranberry Growers Assn.

It’s too bad that cranberries tend to receive little more than a cursory nod when cast in their limited role as a wobbly sauce —several circles down from the holiday turkey.  If real lucky, they might be hung out to dry on a string draped around the Christmas tree.

I decided to give cranberries a chance, this time as a co-star with another seasonal favorite, the Honeycrisp apple (or any other sweet-crisp variety).  Anyone who has played with cranberries knows they can be quirky.  They are hard, tart, and when cooked have their own thickening power.  On the other hand, Honeycrisp apples are full of flavor, crisp, bright and juicy—they could go a long way to elevating cranberries beyond their obscure part as a bit player.

This beautiful Crostata if very similar to the Stone Fruit Galette in my Counter Cuisine cookbook.  If you have taken a look, you know that it is a hand formed pie mounded with fresh fruit. It also bakes in about 30 minutes.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

The trick here is to cook the apples and cranberries just long enough to soften them but still retain their shape and unique attributes.

Apples and near popping Cranberries

The best way to pull this off is to briefly cook the filling ahead. The hand formed pastry can be prepped ahead, too. Then, it’s a simple matter of assembling it all and baking the crostata off until bubbly and golden brown.

A little pastry with your fruit

The result: a crisp pastry bundle wrapped around a tender-fresh filling near bursting with holiday flavors.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

Ingredients
1 recipe Hand Formed Pastry (below)
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 Honeycrisp or other apples, peel, core, cut into ½” slice or chunks, @ 3 cups
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 orange:  1 Tbsp juice, 2 tsp zest
1 Tbsp flour
¾ to 1 cup raw cranberries
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Glaze: 1 Tbsp melted and strained marmalade (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare pastry and chill at least 30 minutes, up to 2 days.
  2. For filling, heat butter in wide pan over medium. Toss in apples to coat, add the spices and sugars to melt. Add the orange zest and juice, cook 1 minute.
    Remove from heat, sprinkle flour over the fruit and gently stir to combine all. Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cranberries, lower heat and cook 2-3 minutes, until thick and fruit just begins to soften. Remove and cool well, 1- 2 hours. Filling can be chilled and brought to room temperature before proceeding.
  3. To assemble, roll out pastry on floured parchment into 12” free formed round. Set pastry and parchment on baking sheet.
    Mound prepared filling onto pastry with slotted spoon, higher in center. Allow 2” border to fold over fruit and contain it. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  4. Bake 375-400°F for 25-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly and pastry is golden brown. If desired, brush fruit top lightly with marmalade glaze for extra shine. Cool well. Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 4 to 6
Hand-Formed Pastry

3  Tbsp each butter and vegetable shortening spread ½” thick, freeze 15 mins
1 cup AP flour
½ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Whisk flour and salt in med bowl. Dice the cold shortening and butter into ½ cubes and cut into flour with 2 knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are the size of small peas.
Add 3 Tbsp ice water and stir with a fork until the flour is moist and begins to hold together. Add a few more drops of ice water into bottom of bowl if needed. Gather up dough and gently shape into a ball and flatten into a disk. Roll out as needed or wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill up to 2 days.

Holiday Hash

Not too long ago while skittering through Trader Joe’s a container of diced mixed vegetables caught my eye.  I paused just long enough to appreciate what looked to be a colorful collection of perhaps diced sweet potatoes or squash, red onion, maybe herbs…

My glasses were steaming up from my mask, but I think it read “Hash.” I quickly moved on, but this blurry visual stayed with me and continued to stimulate my imagination.

I planned to cook Cornish game hens for Thanksgiving.  I could picture the hen nestled in a bed of hash-like vegetables—further eliminating any trace of traditional stuffing. Since I had white sweet potato on hand I’d make it much like an ordinary stuffing and replace the bread with partially cooked sweet potato.

Hen and Hash

I’d start with a shallot or sweet onion, celery, and a jalapeno pepper for a little bite, plus good quality herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme.  I’d briefly steam the diced sweet potato and toss it in the pan for a quick brown.  Thus, the Holiday Hash was born.

Sweet Potato Hash

The white sweet potato gives much more flavor, food value, and fiber than the usual gooey stuffing—and its slight touch of sweetness goes beautifully with poultry.

Hash and Egg

And yes, this hash is outstanding the next day with eggs.

Sweet Potato Hash

Inspired by Trader Joe’s prepped hash

Ingredients
1 large white sweet potato, peel and cut into ½” dice
⅓ cup water, approx.
2-3 Tbsp butter, divided
1 large shallot or sweet onion, dice
¾ tsp each dried sage and rosemary
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 stalks celery plus leaves, dice
1 large jalapeno, seed and dice
½ tsp each salt and fresh ground black pepper
¾ tsp paprika

Instructions

  1. Place diced sweet potato in ovenproof bowl, add water to cover bottom of bowl; cover and bake in microwave 2½ – 3 minutes, until the sweet potato begins to soften. Drain well.
  2. In a medium skillet over medium heat melt 1 Tbsp butter, add the shallot or onion and the dried herbs; cook to soften, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining vegetables, a bit more butter if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until vegetables begin to soften, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Increase heat slightly, add a bit more butter and the steamed sweet potato. Season with paprika, a bit more salt and pepper. Cook, loosen and turn with a spatula until the potato begins to take on color and brown on edges, 4-5 minutes. Serve or set aside for later use reheated. Serves 3-4

To Your Health

Delicious delicata squash is available in markets right now, and if you haven’t given it a try, you are in for a delightful discovery.

Delicatas are one of Squash World’s most misunderstood varieties. Their unique shoulder season adds to the confusion, since they grow during the summer and are harvested in the fall. Thus, they are actually more related to zucchini and other summer squash.

You’ve probably seen these elongated, pale-yellow, green-ridged beauties mixed in with the winter squash.  Just eying them in a display next to thick-shelled squash, it’s easy to assume that they, too, have a hard exterior. Not so, their skin cuts easily and is quite edible.

Delicata specimen

Although the squash is a bit smaller than many of its shelf mates, when sliced open you’ll find a firm golden interior with a string of large seeds (also edible). One look inside tells you this variety is richly loaded with minerals and fiber.

This makes the delicata an ideal candidate for a fast oven roast.  In about 30 minutes the half-moons soften and caramelize beautifully, and the tender ribbons of skin help retain their charming shape.  While at it, you could include other mildly dense vegetables such as onions or sliced peppers.

Delicata roasted half-moons

For a seasonal pasta combination, I went with ruffled farfalle and lightly coated everything with a full flavored near-raw Kale Pesto, a hearty fall pesto variation loaded with nutrients and possibilities.

Delicata, kale pesto, pasta

If you are up for other pasta options, try an interesting substitute such as kelp or soba noodles.

Delicata Squash, Kale Pesto & Pasta

Ingredients
1 small Delicata squash, wash, halve lengthwise and seed; cut into ¼” – ½” slices
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 sliced onion and/or 1 cup sliced multicolored peppers (optional)
Kale Pesto
1 small bunch cleaned & stemmed lacinato kale leaves, 3 cups packed pieces
3 cloves garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp salt
¼ cup pine nuts, toast
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (more for topping)
1 Tbsp lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, approx..
12 oz. pasta
Finish: grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. To roast the delicata squash, on a baking sheet drizzle the squash and any additional vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast @ 425°F for 20-30 minutes, until squash softens and begins to caramelize and brown. Remove and cool. Can be done ahead.
  2. For pesto, to blanch kale in microwave place 3 cups rinsed, chopped kale in microwaveable container. Cover and cook 1-2 minutes until wilted, still dark green, and reduced to 1 cup or less.
    Place the cooled leaves and cooking liquid in a blender with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and lemon juice. Whirl briefly. Add pine nuts, grated cheese; slowly drizzle in olive oil pulsing to form a thick, textured paste; adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead. This will likely make more than needed.
  3. To assemble, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain; save 1 cup of water.
    Place pasta In large bowl, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto,  a little pasta water, if dry. Add the vegetables to the pasta and toss with more pesto to lightly coat. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 3-4

Half-time Biscotti

No, this is not about football food—although that is a possibility. Today, we are talking about super-friendly biscotti that’s made in less than half the usual time.

Given that biscotti loosely translates to “twice-baked” in Italian, the second bake was originally meant to protect cookies for longer term storage—by further drying them.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti

In my opinion, biscotti is generally defined by a slight eggy flavor, mild sweetness, and crumbly texture. It’s true I’ve never met a biscotti cookie I didn’t like, but frankly there are times when a frequently hard and dry biscuit is not what I’m after.

I wondered what would happen if I reworked my favorite biscotti elements and baked them only once? To get there, I’d include a little fine cornmeal or polenta for character and crunch, lace them with the sweet nuttiness of toasted almonds, and weave in floral notes from dried apricots.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Rather than fuss over the patting, shaping, and cutting steps required for traditional long fingers, I’d further expedite the process and go with quick, rustic rounds.

The Outcome:  A short and sweet labor of love—and delicious, dippable cookie.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Ingredients
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal or fine polenta
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 beaten egg, divided
1 Tbsp milk, divided
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp each almond and vanilla extract
¼ cup dried apricots, chop
¼ cup toasted almonds, coarse chop

Egg wash: 2 tsp of the beaten egg + 2 tsp of milk; 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Oil or line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. On waxed paper, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg, remove 2 tsp of it and set it aside for the egg wash. Remove 2 tsp milk and add to the egg wash. Whisk milk into egg in bowl, then whisk in the sugar until light. Add the extracts.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the apricots and nuts. Shape into a round mass. (If the dough is soft, chill it 20-30 minutes until firm.)
  5. Divide the dough in half. With floured hands shape each into ¾” rolls. Cut into ¾” lengths and set upright pieces on baking sheet; they tend to spread slightly. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated (or cinnamon-flavored) sugar.
  6. Bake until cookies are set, shiny and browned,18-20 minutes. Cool on rack. Yield about 20 cookies

Going with the flow

I’m still using Imperfect Foods for bi-monthly deliveries. They are on time with reliably packed seasonal produce and products—a pleasure during this Covid debacle when shopping is frequently less than enjoyable.

Key cooking options recently got down to a small bunch of leeks and one sweet potato. It looked like it was time for a nutritious soup. I’d put my Zen on and shoot for uncomplicated {Sweet} Potato Leek Soup—and see what happened.

Sweet Potato and Leeks

Oops, as I started peeling the sweet potato I discovered it was white inside. What? Apparently this sweet potato variation can be drier and less sweet than its redder cousins. Okay, fine.

With so few ingredients it’s hard to screw up this soup. I did add a touch of flour to stabilize the soup, just in case it turned grainy. Most important, the leeks need to cook 30 minutes to soften and release their full sweet-herbal flavors. For stock base, I opt for chicken broth, but I suspect a good vegetable broth would be just as good.

The cubed sweet potato is hard but cooks fairly quickly. The only other seasonings used were herbs with the leeks, nutmeg with the sweet potato, salt and white pepper. When ready, an immersion blender quickly pureed it all.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was prepared to thin it with milk or stock, I kept it slightly thick. Ah, yes. The soup was creamy and delicious with soothing herbal notes and a touch of sweetness (likely more so with a red sweet potato). It needed no tweaking.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

The garnishes also took on a life of their own. I especially liked it swirled with salted Greek yogurt and threads of green onion.

On another occasion, for textural interest, I dusted the top with dukkah (below), a favorite of Yotam Ottolenghi.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup with Dukkah

Dukkah is a nutty Egyptian mix laced with coriander, cumin and sesame seeds that I learned about on his MasterClass. Oh, yum.

Dukkah mix

The point is, any type of potato will work here, just go with the flow… it’s even good straight up in a cup—fast, filling, and refreshing.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
3 small leeks, mostly white parts, clean well, trim and slice
½ tsp thyme and/or savory
1 bay leaf
salt and white pepper
1 Tbsp flour
2-3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 medium sweet potato (any kind!), peel and small chop
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup evaporated or whole milk approx., optional
Finish: plain yogurt light salted, green onion slivers

For Dukkah mix: 1 tsp coconut oil, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp white and or black sesame seeds, ⅔ cup total any combo slivered almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and or pistachios. Each ½ tsp paprika, dried oregano or sage, and sumac if available. Optional ½ tsp salt and/or sugar. (see below)

Directions

  1. In soup pot heat the oil over medium add the leeks and toss; then the spices. Cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, blend in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup stock, simmer to thicken. Add the potato cubes and nutmeg; stir in more stock to cover. Simmer the vegetables until soft, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Carefully puree with an immersion blender until smooth; adjust seasoning. Set aside until ready to serve soup.
  4. To finish, heat the soup mixture. If desired, stir in milk to thin; avoid boiling. Finish with salted yogurt, green onion or dukkah. Serves 4
Dukkah

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

  1. In a small skillet, heat coconut oil over medium/high heat, add the coriander and cumin seeds and cook until aromatic, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add sesame seeds and toss until toasted scents begin to develop. Add nuts of choice. As mix begins to toast, add paprika, oregano or sage, sumac if available. Adjust with a pinch of salt and/or sugar as needed to balance. Toss until well toasted but not burnt. Let cool.
  3. Process briefly in food processor into a coarse blend. Cool and store well covered, the blend holds well.

Manageable Muffins

I’m in food management mode.  My fridge has stopped working and while waiting for parts and repair I’m keeping it simple by relying on the most stable foods and meals.

My tiny backup cooler/fridge takes limited perishables like milk, eggs, cheese, and perhaps a ready made meal or two. So, there’s nothing like a good challenge to get the creative juices flowing.

Applesauce Muffins

For some reason I had several kid-sized servings of applesauce in the pantry. Turns out, 2 of these cups are just enough to make a small batch of  6 delicious applesauce muffins.

These fall-flavored muffins should hold at least 3 days without refrigeration, just long enough to safely polish them all off. Thus far, they have been a welcome touch for breakfast, snacks… even dessert.

The muffins are inspired by a larger recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Café. They cleverly begin by giving rolled oats a quick softening soak with other wet ingredients. Rather than melted butter, I used shelf-ready coconut oil for a light floral background note.

The wet mixture is then dumped into the dry ingredients. The flours can be your choice: gluten-free, whole grained, etc.  I used partial all-purpose for max leavening power, plus a touch of recent favorite, buckwheat flour.  Additions such as dried cranberries or raisins are also combined with the dry ingredients.

Safe and Sane Muffin

The batter is quickly blended and portioned into a 6-cup lined muffin tin (a large ⅓ cup scoop works beautifully) and bake approximately 18 minutes. To avoid tough or dry muffins, the big caution is to not overmix or overbake.

Mine were/are moist, with just enough texture from the oats and dried cranberries for plenty of flavor, fiber, and food value.

Small Batch Applesauce Muffins

Modified from Mel’s Kitchen Café

Ingredients
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup AP flour
2 Tbsp whole wheat or buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with liners or grease the muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal, applesauce, egg, vanilla, coconut oil and sugar and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, cranberries or raisins if using. Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix or the muffins will be dense and dry.
  4. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter evenly among the 6 muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 6 muffins

Smoking Light

I finally buckled and bought a small grill/smoker.  This little guy is the compromise I’d been dreaming about: a compact heavy duty grill geared for smoking.  Turns out, this odd-duck is the cast iron smoker box add-on to Char-Griller’s large premium model.  Their baby version is also designed as a stand alone tabletop grill.

Char-Griller Table Top Grill

I’ve been running it through its paces and yes, it holds optimum temperatures of 250-275°F.  Using the the offset smoking method, coals are fired up in a lower ash box opposite the main grill side. Two vents channel smoke up and around the food, constantly wrapping it in warm smoke.

I’m not interested in smoking food for hours on end, but I do want it thoroughly smoked and safely cooked within a reasonable amount of time. There’s a delicate balance between duration of time and establishing the proper interior heat for adequate smoking.  When planning for thorough cooking of most foods, the 250-275°F range seems to be it.

Acceptable internal meat temperatures can actually differ from traditional gauges and guidelines, such as cooking poultry until 165°F.  It’s been proven that holding meat at a prolonged lower cooking temp is perfectly safe, if it is held for a prescribed period of time.  For example with chicken, the USDA says that bacteria like salmonella is eliminated and chicken is safe once it fully reaches 145°F and is cooked at that temperature at least 13 minutes longer.

That’s more information than you may want. Especially if you have an electric or propane grill that monitors all of that for you.  But this approach works for the minimalist in me.

In my opinion chicken thighs are an ideal solution for a ‘smoking light’ session. With the bone-in and skin on they need little more to produce perfect packages of moist, blissful meat graced with just enough skin for those who may deem it important.

Thighs ‘Smoked Light’

My approach for smoked chicken thighs includes brining. A flavored salt solution acts to purify, moisturize and enhance the thighs. It gets the job done in four hours, but may be held longer with a saltier outcome.  If concerned, just dilute with more water.

After the brining, thighs air dry for 4 hours to aid in smoke adherence and absorption. To counteract flabby or rubbery skin, try a quick sear in a hot pan prior to smoking. Another solution is to sear them on the grill, but fat dripping onto coals also means flare ups and heat acceleration.

No time to brine? Try a light rub on the thighs prior to placing them on the grill—with a water pan below.  A simple rub with paprika and slight pop of sumac is included; it will punch up the flavor yet allow the smoke essence to flourish.

For smoke flavoring, I soaked a combination of mesquite and apple chips for 30 minutes and drained them well before placing them in a smoker box on top of white charcoal.  The coals  were replenished once to maintain the grill’s interior temperature.

After 1½ hours cooking time, thigh internal temperatures ranged from 145 to 155°F.  Within 15 minutes, temperatures maintained and stabilized from 148-155°F throughout.  The thighs had a beautiful burnished color and were firm when pressed.

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Done to perfection!

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Ingredients
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
Brine
2 cups water divided
2 cloves garlic, smash and sliver
1 Tbsp each sea salt and granulated sugar
½ tsp peppercorns
bay leaf
Optional Rub
1 tsp each salt, white pepper,  sweet or smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp sumac

Directions

  1. Brine: combine 1 cup water and ingredients, bring to boil to dissolve salt and sugar. Add 1 cup cold water to the brine and set aside to cool.
    Wash the thighs and trim excess skin and fat. Place in zip lock bag covered with brine. Marinate 4 hours; it becomes saltier the longer it brines.
    Remove the thighs from brine, pat excess liquid.  Air dry on a rack for 4 or more hours in fridge. Bring thighs to room temperature before smoking.
  2. Soak chips: soak wood chips in water for 20-30 minutes, drain well and place in smoker box if using.
  3. Prepare the smoker:  ignite coals. Add a water pan below the offset smoker grill side and spray the grill. When coals begin to turn white, top with chips/smoker box.
  4. Optional thighs sear:  heat skillet to medium high and coat it with oil. Sear skin sides only.
  5. Optional rub:  If using rub, apply just before placing on grill.
  6. Smoke the thighs: when interior smoker temperature reaches 250°F place the thighs on the grill. Close the lid and set vents partially open for draft.  Smoke the thighs for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until 165°F internal temp, or a sustained overall internal temp of 150°F for 5 minutes.

Note:  to maintain a steady heat level check coals 30 minutes into smoke, if dwindling add a few more hot coals to bed.     

Breakfast All Day

Frittatas are highly versatile and notoriously good hot, warm, or room temperature. They are equally good as a finger food snack cut into small bites.

Depending on the combination, a frittata is satisfying any time of the day. It makes an easy receptacle for fresh or cooked vegetables like potatoes, chorizo and other meats, and leftovers such as pasta—or just about anything that can be suspended in eggs—that familiar binder that keeps it all together.

A frittata is so adaptable it’s hard to screw it up.  As a habit, I tend to begin with vegetables, sliced or in a standard chop, and sauté them over medium heat for even cooking. Any other inclusions are added, followed by the eggs, and it’s finished on the stove with a quick flip, or baked in the oven until set.

Recently, I came across a photo of a frittata that featured bigger pieces of cut-up vegetables—not a hugely innovative idea, but it caused me to rethink frittatas in general.

Frittata with Mixed Vegetables & Cheese

For a slightly different approach, why not simply bump up the heat a little?  Start by searing vegetables cut to any size with a fast steam to further soften?  Add other ingredients including the eggs and cook until set, and finish under the broiler.

Frittata fast track

No big deal, but it does provide a faster, more consistent outcome.  Those lovely vegetables are no longer lost and buried filler.

just a bite

The eggs rise up and elevate zucchini, onion, pepper, and baby tomatoes  into tempting chunks wrapped in a cheese bath.

Mixed Vegetables and Cheese Frittata

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp butter
½ medium onion, thickly sliced
1 small zucchini, thickly sliced
1 pasilla, poblano or bell pepper, seed, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup halved baby tomatoes
1 tsp combo fresh thyme, savory, rosemary or other
salt and pepper
6 eggs
⅓ cup thick dairy such as yogurt or ricotta
2 Tbsp water or milk
½ cup crumbled or grated ricotta salata, feta, or cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup green onions

Directions
1. Preheat oven broiler to 400°F degrees.
2. Heat 8-9” skillet heat over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté the onion to soften for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high, add zucchini, the green pepper, fresh herbs and a light dusting of salt and pepper.
3. Cook to color the vegetables, 4- 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp water and cover for 1-2 minutes to soften the vegetables.
4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and liquid. Remove lid, toss the vegetables, add butter and a bit more olive oil if needed to coat bottom of pan.
5. Pour in the eggs and sprinkle with the cheese. Once the mixture begins to set, tilt the pan and gently lift the mass to loosen the bottom with a spatula and allow the egg liquid to run to the bottom of the pan. Continue to turn the pan, gently lifting to keep from sticking to pan and letting the loose eggs flow under.
6. When the eggs begins to set run the frittata under the broiler until the center is puffed and the top begins to brown in places. Remove and sprinkle with green onions or other fresh herbs. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, sliced into wedges. Serves 4.

Quintessentially laid back

I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted on Key Lime Pie, a favorite of many, including me. Once you’ve had a taste of its tart-sweetness, just thinking about this luscious pie makes your mouth water.

Key Lime Pie

This is a recipe that comes from my cheffing days based out of Florida—where  small, flavorful Key limes are readily available. If not, no worries, just substitute bottled Key lime juice or regular limes. It really doesn’t matter—it’s always good.  For a tropical climate with a laid back attitude, this legendary pie is one that everyone can wrap their minds around.

It’s a curious pie that hasn’t changed much in decades. One of its quirks comes from the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. The knowledge that acid combined with evaporated milk could yield a thick filling was a boon to those living on the water or in remote locales. No need to fret over fresh milk or cream, and the addition of sugar in the canned milk made it even easier.

Chilled Out 

Still, there are many versions of Key lime pie.  I like to lighten the filling just a bit with a couple of  beaten egg whites.  An optional sour cream topping can introduce an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the pie.  Also included, a graham cracker crust alternative that bakes for only three minutes in the microwave.

Most Key lime pie lovers would agree that it is perfectly good morning, noon, or night—anywhere there’s a cool breeze and a little shade.  At times, I’ve been known to get further carried away by making candied lime slices ahead for garnish points. But that’s another story.

Key Lime Pie

Ingredients
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, baked (below)
Filling
1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is good)
¼ cup Key lime juice (6 small), bottled Key lime juice, or fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest
2 eggs, separated
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Optional:  Topping: 1 cup sour cream, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla; lime slices

Instructions

  1. Ahead bake the crust. Pre-heat oven to 325-350°F.
  2. For the filling, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and rind in a bowl to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and thick.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the whites until soft peaks form, sprinkle on sugar and continue until stiff. Gently fold into lime mixture.
  4. Pile filling into the pre-baked shell and bake 15 minutes to set; remove to rack to cool while making the topping. If not using, bake a total of 30 minutes.
  5. For topping, gently combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla and spread over the warm pie. Bake the pie with topping an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and chill well. Slice into wedges and serve with a lime slice. Yield: 8 slices.

Graham Cracker Crust
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 graham crackers)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup melted butter

  1. Spray a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2.  For the crust, combine ingredients and pat into pie plate; chill for 15 minutes.
  3.  Bake the crust in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes, or in 375°F oven 6-8 minutes, until firm and crisp. Set aside to cool.

Mole, please

With the changing seasons I’m already thinking of more robust meals and nothing makes my heart beat faster than a high flavored mole, the national dish of Mexico. This unique dish is a throw back to esteemed concoctions originally made by the Aztecs and later nuanced by the Spanish nuns of Puebla.

Mole!

A traditional mole sauce can vary in color from red to green and in-between, depending on what it contains and where it is made, but often includes a range of chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, and even chocolate.

With all of these moving parts, this complex labor of love can require a day or longer to create—thus, it is often held for special occasions. Once prepared, the triumphant sauce is simmered with chicken, turkey, pork, or beef and served with plenty of warm tortillas, local vegetables such as chayote or squash, and rice.

North of the border, we are more likely to come up with a compromise meal solution that’s attainable in far less time—but just as festive. We could 1) devise our own “simplified” sauce, perhaps include dried chiles, spices, peanut butter, and chocolate, 2) run to the closest local Mexican market for their prepared house blend, or 3) pull out a jar of Doña Maria Mole, a dense paste found at your local grocery store.

Doña Maria Mole Sauce helps makes an impressive meal—even mid-week.  I still like to dress it up with more garlic, chile powder and seasoning before adding the mole base. It needs copious thinning with stock or other liquid and then the sauce is simmered briefly to blend flavors.

Turkey Mole

Browned-off portions of chicken, pork, or beef—or my favorite, turkey breast—are added to the sauce and simmered until tender. If you have an Instant Pot, this entire project can be accomplished in about an hour.

As you would expect, mole actually improves overnight, and reheats beautifully.  The sauce thickens mightily and goes much further than you would expect. Like a good soup, extend with more water.

Mole, please

EZ Turkey Mole

Ingredients
turkey breast, 2-3 lbs. boned, with skin (or equivalent cut-up chicken, pork or beef)
½ tsp both salt and pepper, or more
1-2 Tbsp canola oil
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup liquid: coffee or water
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup prepared mole blend (such as Doña Maria Mole Mexican Sauce)
3-4 cups approx., stock or water to thin
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, ½ cup cilantro

Instructions

  1.  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper, heat the oil in a pot over medium high and brown the breast on both sides,10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a holding plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium/low. If necessary add enough oil to yield 1 tablespoon in pan. Stir in spices, then the garlic; cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add liquid, stir to loosen and combine pan drippings. Blend in the tomato paste.
  3. Stir in the mole base adding enough liquid to thin into a medium sauce. Adjust seasoning and bring to a simmer; it will continue to thicken as it cooks. Return the turkey breast (and any accumulated juices) to pot.
  4. Set Instant Pot for 20-30 minutes (9 mins/pound) with 10 minute release, or simmer on the stovetop 45-60 minutes, until tender.
  5. Adjust seasoning, it may need a touch of orange juice or sugar. Serve sliced portions with sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and fresh cilantro. Pass warmed tortillas. Serves 4.