Julia’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Recipe

The real recipe; not the lazy-cook knockoff circulating among her family and friends.

My mother-in-law Julia may not have been the best all-around cook, but there were a few things that she made extraordinarily well. One of them was her Thanksgiving cranberries. For a kid who grew up with cranberries served out of a can — still shaped like the can, mind you — this was an amazing revelation that cured me of canned cranberries for good.

Thanksgiving 1996I first made Julia’s cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving dinner in 1996. This was an amazing meal served in my New Jersey home. Our Salvation Army-acquired dining table, expanded to its full length with the help of a homemade leaf fully five feet wide, made it possible for all 15 of us to sit together. Amazing timing with the help of a standard sized oven and the microwave I still own made it possible to serve the entire meal at the same time, fresh and hot. If there is such a thing as miracles, this was one of them. I’ll never be able to top that feat again.

Anyway, Julia gave me her cranberry recipe for that meal and I prepared the cranberries a day or two in advance to her specifications. It came out perfectly.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the recipe that was distributed to family and friends on the back of a card handed out at her funeral. I was shocked to see that it included canned cranberries. The recipe Julia shared with me didn’t have cranberries out of a can. It had fresh cranberries prepared on the stove — the way a real cook would prepare them.

Here, then, is the recipe Julia shared with me back in 1996. I’ll be making this for my friends to enjoy at Thanksgiving this year.

Ingredients:

  • Cranberries
    Julia’s real cranberry recipe started with fresh whole cranberries.

    2 12-oz bags fresh, whole cranberries

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 12-oz can crushed pineapple (packed in natural juice; do not drain)
  • 1 10-oz can Mandarin orange pieces (drained), crushed or chopped
  • 3 or 4 figs, fresh or dried, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (optional for crunchiness; I usually omit it)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or orange juice

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the cranberries and place them in a pot.
  2. Add the water and one cup of the sugar and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Listen for the cranberries to “pop.” When about two thirds of them have popped, remove them from the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Drain away the cooking water and place the cranberries in a large bowl.
  6. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and still well. Sugar should dissolve.
  7. Cool thoroughly.
  8. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  9. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors will meld.

Finished Cranberries
Here’s what my cranberries look like this year.

Serve with turkey (for Thanksgiving!) or pork (any time of the year).

If you’re looking for something different with your turkey this year, try homemade mango chutney. That’s also good with pork.

By the way, the other thing Julia made so perfectly was a New York style cheesecake. I dreaded when she made it in my kitchen because she made an enormous mess. But it was worth it: creamy, delicious, and just sweet enough — if you could convince her not to top it off with something silly like cherry pie filling.

I miss you more than I thought I would, Julia. Rest in peace.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Fresh, tasty pumpkin seedy goodness.

I bought a bunch of pumpkins in October — all kinds of pumpkins — from a local pumpkin farm. I bought them mostly because I could pick them myself and it was fun. I liked the seasonality of having pumpkins around. And I figured I might carve them and put candles in them and do the whole Jack ‘O Lantern thing, even though I knew damn well I wasn’t going to get any trick or treaters.

Penny with Pumpkins
Penny posed with the pumpkins the day we brought them home.

But then my godfather got sick and died and I went to New York. When I got back, right before Halloween, I didn’t really feel like carving pumpkins.

So they sat outside. Halloween came and went. We had a warm spell and then it turned cold. Very cold. “Frost on the pumpkin,” as my stepdad would say, cold.

I got the idea that I wanted to pull seeds from the pumpkins to plant them in my own garden next year. (Don’t tell Monsanto.) So one-by-one I bought them in, cut them open, and scooped out the seeds. I cleaned them and dried them and put them in labeled plastic bags.

Of course, I don’t need that many seeds to plant and the orange pumpkin had plenty of them. So I decided to roast them — just as I did most years that I carved pumpkins in Arizona and New Jersey.

Here’s how.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Using oil or spray oil, lightly grease the bottom of a large pan. (I used olive oil because that’s the way I roll.)
  3. Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds and loose pulpy stuff around them from the inside.
  4. Separate the pulpy stuff from the seeds. This could take some time. Be patient. Drinking wine or chatting with a friend or loved one is a good multi-tasking activity.
  5. Put the seeds in a colander and rinse them. Don’t rinse them too well; they’re better with just a little bit of pumpkin on them.
  6. Put the pumpkin seeds in the prepared pan and spread them evenly.
  7. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
    Roasted pumpkin seeds, straight from my oven.

    Sprinkle the seeds with a generous helping of salt. (I used Kosher salt because I had some. Regular salt works, too.)

  8. Put the pan in the oven and roast for at least 10 minutes. If necessary, stir the seeds to prevent uneven browning, spread them out again, and continue to roast. You might have to do this more than once, depending on how many seeds there are and how big the pan is. The seeds should be light brown and kind of crispy when they’re done.
  9. Remove from oven.
  10. Enjoy as soon as they’re cool enough to eat without burning your mouth.

And yes, you do eat the entire seed.

Enjoy!

Apple Crisp for One (or Two)

Very easy, very tasty.

One of the great things about living near Wenatchee, Washington’s “Apple Capital,” is the wide availability of fresh-picked apples each autumn. Not only am I able to buy local apples direct from packing companies like Stemilt’s Bountiful Fruit store in North Wenatchee (which ships, by the way), but I can often get out in an orchard and pick the less marketable fruit left behind. Indeed, just last week, after dropping off some passengers for a meeting at an orchard, I walked through an organic gala apple block and picked a half dozen apples that were just too small to pick. (I get cherries and pears like this, too.)

I was invited to dinner at a friend’s house the other day and told my host I’d bring apple crisp. I wanted to make just enough for him and his three guests. So I found a recipe that was easily scalable. It came out great with those galas. So good that I made myself a single serving of hot apple crisp the next day for breakfast.

Here’s my scalable recipe. This will serve one or two.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium or large apple. I used gala.
  • 2 tablespoons raisins (optional). I didn’t use them. I really don’t care much for raisins, but they do go good in apple crisp.
  • 2 teaspoons sugar. I use raw cane sugar.
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt (optional).
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar. Packed, of course.
  • 2 tablespoons oatmeal. Do not use instant oatmeal. Ever. (Ick.)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter. I used frozen butter cut into small pieces.
  • Additional butter to butter pan.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter a small baking dish and set aside.
  3. Cut up the apple and place it in a small bowl. You can cut it however you like; keep in mind that the smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll cook.
  4. Add raisins (if you’re including them), sugar, cinnamon, and salt (if you’re including it). Toss to coat apples with sugar and cinnamon.
  5. Place apple mixture in the prepared baking dish.
  6. Mix together brown sugar, oatmeal, flour, and butter pieces. Using your fingers, blend until the butter is in very small pieces and well mixed in. This could take about 2 minutes.
  7. Apple Crisp for OneSprinkle the topping over the apples.
  8. Bake until apple is tender, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the apple pieces. (If you used a glass baking dish, you should see the apples bubbling in their juices.)
  9. Cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.

This is amazingly delicious with coffee for breakfast or with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

The Life, Death, and Life of the O-Grill

A portable BBQ grill I really like.

_images_ogrill_open.jpgThe Iroda O-Grill.

Back in May 2010, the first season I drove my “mobile mansion” north for my summer job, I stopped along the way to pick up a portable gas grill. I stopped at the Camping World in Junction City, OR — now apparently closed — for the night and shopped before they closed for the day. I wound up with an Iroda O-Grill: a small clamshell style grill with 225 square inches of grilling space that used a propane cylinder for fuel.

I soon grew to love the grill. It was easy to set up and store, easy to clean, easy to use, and easy to find fuel for. I’d fire it up, let it run on highest temperature for 5 minutes, and clean it with a wire brush. Then I’d turn it down to its lowest setting and grill whatever I liked: steak, fish, vegetables — even tofu. You had to cook on its lowest setting; the darn thing put out so much heat with the lid closed that anything higher than that would cook much too quickly.

I used it all that summer and the next. When I brought the RV back to Arizona for the winter of 2010/11, I even brought the grill home to my house. It was a hell of a lot easier to use than the big Jennaire grill my wasband had bought for the patio — a grill I never seemed to be able to light properly. The darn thing always started on the first button push. Always.

The summer of 2013 was summer #4 for the grill. Although it was just starting to show its age — mostly from the time spent outdoors at the Quincy golf course RV park where it was sprinkled on every night by the irrigation system — but was running perfectly well. That is until it caught fire while grilling up some brats.

The fire was hot and fierce. Water from my poor man’s hot tub nearby extinguished it. With a few twists, the gas can was removed and the danger was over.

Burned Grill   Burned Table
Death of the O-Grill (and the table it sat on).

But my O-Gill had so obviously grilled its last brat. The back of the grill surface was melted off and one of the legs was melted sideways so it didn’t even sit level anymore. Even the folding table it had been sitting on was pretty much destroyed.

I immediately looked for a replacement. Yeah, I know it had caught fire, but it had given me four solid seasons of grilling before that. I liked it. It was worth replacing.

A search online brought up more than just shopping results. It brought up the recall notice. From the notice:

Hazard: The regulator on the grill can leak gas which can ignite, posing a fire and burn hazard to consumers.
Incidents/Injuries: Uni-O has received 10 reports of grills catching fire. No injuries or property damage have been reported.
Description: This recall involves Iroda O-Grill models 1000 and 3000 produced before 2010. Some were also sold under the Tailgate Gear brand. Both models are lightweight, portable, clamshell-type propane grills with steel bodies, cast iron cooking surfaces, retractable legs and a handle. They can be used with either 1-pound propane cylinders or 20-pound propane tanks. The grills come in orange, red, green, blue, silver and black and have the words “O-Grill” stamped on the metal grill cover. Recalled O-Grills do not have ventilation slots in the regulator cover where the propane bottle screws in. Grills with ventilation slots in the regulator cover are not subject to the recall.

Oops.

The notice was more than 18 months old, but I figured that a replacement would be a heck of a lot cheaper than a new grill (which was now selling for $40 more). So I made the necessary phone calls. Eventually, I spoke with a very nice man who asked me some questions about the grill and promised to send me a new one. He even asked what color I wanted. (I picked red.) All he asked is that I send back the old grill in the new grill’s shipping box.

Done and done.

My New O-GrillMy new O-Grill looks a lot like my old one, but it’s red instead of orange.

The new grill, which arrived just yesterday, looks a lot like the old one, although there is a difference in the grill design. This one has a sort of barrier between the grill and the area behind it, near the cover hinge. It works pretty much the same, although I have to admit it doesn’t fire up on the first button push every time. (Not yet, anyway.)

I do recommend this grill. It’s great for camping or tailgating. Very portable and very easy to use. It makes a good complement to my Traeger by providing a quick and efficient way to sear the BBQ sauce on the ribs I’m always smoking.

Cheese: The Cheesemaking Class

I get to see — and participate in — the cheesemaking process.

There’s a cheese maker that comes to Wenatchee Valley Farmer’s Market held each Wednesday and Saturday at Pybus Market: Alpine Lakes Sheep Cheese. As you might imagine, I stopped at their booth tasted some cheese, and bought some. It was very good. I don’t know how I missed it, but my friend didn’t: a rack card that advertised a hands on cheese making class. I went back to the booth and talked to Katha (pronounced with a long a like Kate). The class was five hours long and cost $80. It wasn’t held regularly, like the rack card suggested, but if I could get at least three people to go, she’d do a class.

I immediately thought of my meetup groups and decided to suggest it to the Wenatchee Social and Outdoor Adventure Group. They’re really not big on “adventure” (despite the name) and I thought this might interest them. But I was quite aware that the price tag would likely turn more than a few people off. Still, I got one person to RSVP yes for the August 10 date.

Then I sprained my foot. I wasn’t sure if I could stand for five hours. And I’d failed to get three people.

But Katha assured me that if I was able to attend with my companion, she was willing to do the class with just two of us. So on that Saturday morning, I met with Jill and we carpooled up to Peshastin in my truck. We arrived at 10 AM.

Alpine Lakes has an excellent cheese making kitchen in a converted garage. It has all the things they need to keep the equipment clean and sterile, several cheese making vats in different sizes, draining trays on wheels to capture the whey, and a “cheese cave.” At least a dozen refrigerators line one wall. A set of sinks and dish draining boards make all-important sanitation easy.

Katha was prepared to make four kinds of cheeses: a soft fresh cheese (like cream cheese), a soft ripened cheese (like brie), a hard cheese, and ricotta. She’d already put various quantities of milk into pots or vats and was heating them. The milk was all fresh sheep’s milk from that morning’s milking. The quantities varied from 2 gallons for the fresh cheese to 20 gallons (I think) for the hard cheese.

She explained that each type of cheese used a different culture and required a different temperature. Some cheeses required a very specific temperature while others could be made within a range of temperatures. She let us measure out the powered cultures that came in a foil envelope stored in the freezer and sprinkle them over the milk surfaces. After waiting a short while, we used large skimmer ladles to draw the moistened culture down into the warm milk. After a certain amount of waiting time, we added liquid rennet diluted in a small amount of cool water. Again, we drew the rennet down into the milk, blending it well.

While we waited for the milk mixture to coagulate, Katha kept us busy. We visited her cheese cave — a room off the side of the kitchen with controlled temperature and humidity where cheese is left to ripen. The room was full of shelves where cheeses in various states of the aging process sat waiting for their time to come.

Katha pulled out a tray full of soft-ripened cheese and set it on a worktable. She showed us how the white rind on these cheese is actually a fuzzy white mold that gets more rind-like as the fuzz is pressed down onto the cheese when it’s wrapped. She put us to work wrapping the cheeses.

At around 11 AM, three more women showed up. Katha had been expecting them — they were last-minute participants. She caught them up on what they missed. Soon we were all taking turns wrapping cheese and coating hard cheese in wax.

Katha also pulled out some cheeses for us to taste. I think this was the best part. We tasted the cheeses she usually sells at the market and elsewhere, as well as a few new cheeses and even two cheeses she called “mistakes.” I liked the mistakes a lot — especially the blue-veined one. There was so much about this that I found odd — most of all that if you make cheese, you can’t immediately taste it to know how it came out. Some cheeses need weeks or months to ripen. These “mistakes” were good examples. She knew that she’d done something wrong — or at least something she hadn’t intended to do — but she wouldn’t know whether it would result in an edible cheese for months. I wondered how many other “mistakes” sat on shelves in her cheese cave.

Once the milk had coagulated, it was time to test it for a “clean break” — an indication that there were good, solid curds. Katha demonstrated and each of us tested one of the cheeses. We worked in shifts to cut the curd — large curd for the soft cheese and very small curd for the hard cheese. She had a huge rounded-tip spatula for curd cutting. The hard cheese, which was in the largest vat, required an extra step: curd cutting by dragging a huge wire whisk through it. This was quite a chore that required a great deal of arm and upper body strength. Who would have thought you could get good exercise making cheese?

Through the course of the morning, we scooped the various cheeses into various molds on the whey draining trays. The whey drained away into 5-gallon buckets beneath the trays. Katha told us that she feeds it to her pigs.

Ricotta for Breakfast
I enjoyed the fresh ricotta cheese for breakfast with fresh fruit.

She also uses it to make ricotta cheese, which is what we did next. She heated about 5 gallons of whey in the now-empty medium sized vat. The whey had to be heated to at least 200 degrees — but could not be heated beyond boiling because it would boil over and make a horrendous mess. It also had to be stirred the whole time. We watched it closely. When it reached the proper temperature, she turned off the heat and added a small amount of vinegar. Small curds immediately began to form. She poured off the contents of the vat into a relatively small cheese bag, letting the whey drain through onto a draining table. After draining and squeezing she had about a quart of ricotta, which she split among the five of us in small plastic containers. I ate it over the next two days with fresh cherries and blueberries from the orchard where I was living along with a small amount of honey from my bees. Amazingly delicious!

Katha took my classmates out to the field to visit with the sheep. Because of my sprained foot, I stayed behind, resting on a chair and munching on cheese.

There was more to the class but I honestly can’t remember the details. I waited too long to write it up. And for some reason I didn’t take any pictures! But I do remember paying an extra $20 at the end so I could take home a bunch of cheese — including those “mistakes” which likely won’t be for sale anywhere.

I’m extremely interested in cheesemaking and, since taking this course, have tried twice to make cheese. My first attempt was probably a success — but I won’t know for sure for another two weeks! My second attempt was a disaster, with a failure of the milk mixture to coagulate properly; I did get a lot of ricotta-like cheese to eat, though. I think my main problem right now is the size of my kitchen (tiny) and my inability to maintain proper “room temperature.” (Remember, I’m currently living in an RV and I detest listening to the constant hum of an air conditioner during the day or heater during the night.)

But I’m very glad I took this course. It taught me a lot about the basic steps of this complex process and what I should expect when I get things right. I recommend a hands-on course like this to anyone interested in making cheese.