Thinking Outside of the Can

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up we ALWAYS had cranberry sauce from a can at Thanksgiving. Nobody ever bothered to make the real thing. And so, until yesterday, neither had I. I didn’t realize how stinkin’ simple it is! (and how much more delicious it is!) I chose to go with something a little different than your typical cranberry sauce. It’s got ginger in it for a little kick.

If you were planning on going with the can, but want to try something new, this is the recipe for you. You can do it! Think outside of the can! It only takes about 15 minutes of your time. Although you might be crazy to go to the store today, I’m sure you won’t be the only one running out for last minute things. Luckily, this recipe requires very few ingredients. It’s another Pinterest find — this time from Martha Stewart. Thanks Martha!

Cranberry Ginger Relish
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

Lately, instead of buying fresh ginger, I’ve been using this ginger from a tube. OK, that sounds weird and gross, but I found that in the past whenever I needed ginger for a recipe, I would hardly ever use the entire thing, and it would almost always go bad. The tube from the store (which really is just ginger and something to preserve it) tastes the same and lasts much longer in the fridge! Here’s a link to a pic so you can hunt it down at the store.

OK, on to the recipe.

Combine cranberries, sugar, ginger, and 2 Tbsp. water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. If you’re like me, you might be wondering, ‘umm…. this is hardly any liquid, how is all of this going to boil?’ Well, it does. The water combines with the sugar and ginger, and it boils. Trust me. (P.S. My apologies for the crappy pictures in this post… I was running around with 8 million things to do before we left town, trying to make this sauce, take pictures, pack, etc, etc… Thus, no time to get the perfect shot.)

When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped — about 10-15 min.

Look at that gooey mess!

Stir in the vinegar. Remove relish from the heat, let cool to room temperature, and serve. You can’t tell from the pictures, but the sauce is a beautiful, deep, ruby red, and oh-so-delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rosemary & Chipotle Spiced Nuts

Last night I was up ’til 11:30 (way past my bedtime) making spiced nuts. But it was worth it. Oh my goodness, these are yummy. Spicy, sweet, and salty. Mmmmm, all kinds of good. We are headed out of town for Thanksgiving and I wanted to make these as a little gift to bring for our hosts —something to snack on tomorrow during the day when maybe we don’t want to eat a whole meal before the big dinner, but want a little somethin’ somethin’ to munch on.

I got this recipe off of Pinterest, and it’s from Ina Garten’s book, How Easy is That? Here’s the link to the recipe.

Chipotle & Rosemary Spiced Nuts
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (and more for oiling pan)
3 cups whole, roasted, unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecan halves (7 ounces)
1/2 cup whole almonds (3 ounces) (We forgot the almonds at the store, so we went without and just used a little bit more walnuts and pecans)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (I used store-bought)
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided (I used a little less. my poor rosemary plant would have been stripped bare if I used 4 Tbsp worth!)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil. Combine your nuts with vegetable oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly. Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt, and toss again.

Spread the nuts in one layer. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary.

Toss well and set aside at room temperature. At this point, the pan was reeally sticky and starting to harden, and the nuts were all getting stuck in it. So to prevent a disaster, I moved the nuts onto a clean pan. While they were cooling, I used a fork to break everything up so they didn’t all stick together.

Cool completely and store in airtight containers at room temperature.

I put mine in some mason jars with cute little labels! Happy munching!

Simple Thanksgiving Side Dish

Seeing as Thanksgiving is in just a few days, I thought I would do some extra posts this week and share a couple of ideas for what to bring if you’re not hosting, or what to make if you are. If you are looking for a super easy side dish, look no further.

Since becoming a vegetarian, sometimes people assume I’m missing out on all of the Thanksgiving delicacies, but this is just not the case. Trust me, I can fill my plate with side dishes galore, and I enjoy my meal every bit as much as others enjoy their turkey. I can also enter into a food coma without the turkey tryptophan. Impressive, right?

There are so many delicious vegetables and fruits that are in season right now: sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sunchokes, rutabaga, winter squash, pomegranates, pears… and these all make for some incredible side dishes.

The other night I wanted to make something quick and easy for dinner, so I thought I would glean some inspiration from my ugly lentil soup recipe, and use some of those ingredients for a side dish. I combined sweet potatoes, onion, apple, and spices for a really yummy side. I’m not actually making this for Thanksgiving, but you could!

Sweet Potato Side Dish (Serves 3-4)
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 onion, diced into small pieces
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cumin
A few pinches of cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh grated ginger
A sprinkle of chili powder
Salt & peper to taste

Preheat oven to 375° F. Mix all ingredients in a baking dish, cover and bake for 30-40 minutes (until potatoes are soft).

I chose to eat it as is, but I bet it also would be good if you mashed it up. I think I’ll do that next time. Let me know how yours turns out!

How to Eat a Pomegranate

I love pomegranates.

I didn’t actually ever try one until last year. Before that, I had no experience with pomegranates, except for what I read in Greek mythology about Persephone eating one and then forever having to live in Hades. (I love Greek mythology.) I don’t know why I had never tried one, but last year R brought one home from work and I was so excited to try it!

But I wondered… how the heck do you eat one? How do you open it? Good question. Google answered that for me, but I want to answer it for you.

Because chances are, if you’ve never done it before and you try to cut it open with no guidance, you will get pomegranate juice everywhere, and trust me, you don’t want that. It stains everything. Kind of like beet juice (except that pomegranates are wayyy more appetizing than beets will ever be.)

To begin with, make sure your pomegranate is ripe. It should be a deep, shiny red, and there shouldn’t be any real soft spots.

Step 1: Cut off the very top and the very bottom. You might cut through a couple of seeds, but that’s OK.

Step 2: Make 4 cuts around the sides, just cutting through the skin. Do not slice all the way through the pomegranate. You want the seeds in the middle to be intact when you open it.

Step 3: Fill a large bowl with water. Holding the pomegranate under the water, gently pull it apart, separating the seeds from the skin. The reason you want to do it in the water is so a) you don’t get juice everywhere, and b) the papery skin will float to the top, and the seeds will sink to the bottom. I love getting all the seeds out. There is something incredibly satisfying about breaking it open, pulling back the skin, and discovering a giant cluster of glistening ruby-red seeds just waiting to be eaten.

I pulled out some pieces of the pomegranate after pulling it apart underwater. Isn’t it pretty? I think the pomegranate is just beautiful.

Step 4: Once you’ve got all of the seeds out, skim the papery stuff out of the water, and then you can dump the seeds into a colander. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so. You can just eat them plain for a snack (so delicious!), or try mixing them into greek yogurt with a little honey, or sprinkle them on your morning cereal or oatmeal! Enjoy.

Make Your Own Veggie Stock

Remember this post, when I was longing for some little piggies to consume all of my lovely vegetable scraps?

A friend of mine wisely suggested that instead of investing in pigs, I follow the advice of Poor Girl Eats Well and make my own vegetable stock. Such a great idea, and best of all it costs you basically nothing. Why would you want to make your own stock, you may ask? Well, if you’re interested in making soup this fall/winter, most soup recipes call for some kind of stock, and why go spend money on it when you can make your own for free?! Vegetable stock is also great when used in place of water for preparing rice or other whole grains. But for me, I think the biggest reason that I love this idea is that I love being resourceful. With this recipe I am getting the most out of my veggies — using every part of them — before they go in the compost. How much more resourceful can you get?

To start with, you’ll need a gallon-sized zip-top freezer bag. From now on, whenever you are chopping up veggies for a recipe, don’t throw your scraps away. Instead, you’re going to toss them in your bag and freeze them, saving up for the day when you can make your very own veggie stock.

I keep this list on the side of my fridge, so whenever I’m chopping up veggies, I can refer to it and see what I should and shouldn’t toss in my scrap bag.

Oh hey, Seattle Pacific.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the best veggies to use. You can also use asparagus, parsnips, squash, fennel, corn cobs, pea pods, and cilantro, but I didn’t use any of these because there is a word of caution with these veggies — they will flavor your stock in a specific way that you may not want. Or maybe you do. Whatever floats your boat.

You don’t only have to use scraps leftover from chopping — feel free to toss anything in the bag that may be in your fridge on the cusp of going bad. Or maybe you know you won’t use it before it actually does go bad. Just don’t use anything that is actually rotten, or anything you wouldn’t want to eat. Gross.

You should also avoid turnips, cabbage, and brussels sprouts because they will become bitter.

Once you have filled up your freezer bag (it took me about a month) you are ready to make your stock. The only other things you need are water, a 6 qt. pot, a fine-meshed strainer, bay leaves, salt, and some freezer-safe containers to store the stock.

Here’s my bag o’ scraps, after a long, hard month of hibernating in the freezer. I think they’re ready to serve some purpose again.

Fill a large pot with 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, carefully add in the frozen veggies. You don’t want to get your arm splashed with boiling water. Which is exactly what I did, of course.

Bring back to a boil. Add in 1 or 2 bay leaves and 1-2 tsp. salt.

Turn your heat down to low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once your time’s up, use a slotted spoon to fish out the large pieces, and set them aside in a bowl to cool. You can compost those later.

Now you can get your strainer and another pot, and carefully pour your stock through the strainer into the pot. I put the pot and strainer in the sink to avoid spills.

Allow to cool completely, for 1-2 hours. Taste your broth and add more salt if needed.

Your broth will be stored in the freezer, so it’s a good idea to measure it before storing. That way you will know how many containers you need for recipes.

I had three 32oz plastic freezer containers, and I ended up with 9 and 3/4 cups of stock, so I put 3 cups each in two of them, and 3 3/4 cups in one.

Back in the freezer they go for some more hibernating, until you are ready to use!

Winter Squash Quesadillas

I’m back, y’all. I’ve missed you.

I could make lots of excuses for being gone for two. whole. weeks, but really I just need to plan my time better. Story of my life. I have realized that if I don’t plan ahead for a recipe to post each week, it may not happen. So, barring a natural disaster, or me getting pregnant* or something, get ready for posts every week. Hopefully.

Anyway. I am really excited about this recipe. Last week my dear friends and I decided to have dinner together before heading out to a Halloween party. I assessed the situation in the fridge. Hmm… tortillas, squash… umm?

Then I had a stroke of pure genius. OK so maybe it wasn’t genius, but it was pretty good. I thought, let’s make squash quesadillas! So I gathered what I had: a buttercup squash, garlic, shallots, tortillas, mexican-blend cheese, some spices. And hey, it turned out pretty good.

But I didn’t feel like taking pictures that night, so tonight I made it again, except I made it even better, because I actually followed a recipe. I remembered my friend had made these yummy sweet potato quesadillas last year, so I decided to go off of that recipe, modifying it a bit. My friend found this recipe in the awesome Mennonite cookbook: Simply in Season.

Disclaimer: I totally messed up at the store tonight. I meant to buy flour tortillas and I bought corn instead. I was too busy paying attention to the labels: whole grain or white flour, high fiber or low carb, blah, blah, blah. I saw this one that had “whole grain and flax,”  and I thought, hey, that sounds good. So I bought it and then I got home and realized they were corn tortillas, which aren’t really good for quesadillas, because you can’t fold them over — they just kind of break in half. So I made sort of a tortilla sandwich. As you will see, they don’t look as good as a real, flour-tortilla quesadilla would look. My apologies. (They still taste good, though!)

Winter Squash Quesadillas
1 1/2 cups minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. each dried basil, marjoram, chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
A pinch of ground red pepper or to taste
4 cups winter squash (roasted and mashed)
8 FLOUR(!) tortillas
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
Serve with salsa

For this recipe, I used an acorn squash. I think you could pretty much use any type of winter squash. (Like I said before, I used a buttercup squash when I originally made this.) Whatever floats your boat. The original recipe called for sweet potatoes, which is also delish. To roast the squash, cut in half and stick face-down on a baking sheet with a rim. Roast for about 50 minutes at 375° F. The time will vary depending on the size of your squash. It’s done when you can easily stick a fork through the skin.

Scoop the squash out of the skin and mash it up. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Saute the garlic and onion with 1 Tbsp. olive oil (or light-colored oil of your choice) in a large sauté pan, until they are translucent. (I made R chop that onion. Muahahaha!)

Add the spices, and cook for another minute.

Add squash and heat through. Stir frequently. When it’s all heated, add some more salt & pepper if needed.

Spread about 1/2 cup of the squash mixture onto half of the tortilla. Sprinkle some cheese on — as little or as much as you’d like. Fold tortilla in half. Place on lightly oiled baking sheets. Brush tops lightly with oil.

Or if you have corn tortillas, get creative.

Bake at 400° F until golden brown, about 15-20 min. Serve with some yummy salsa. (I regretfully did not have any salsa on hand.)

Look at that gooey, cheesy, squashy goodness. (Sorry vegans).

*Please do not read into this that I think getting pregnant is equivalent to a natural disaster. But it would be sort of bad timing. Let’s finish up grad school first, shall we? Yes, thank you.