Monday, November 13, 2006

Doin' the fresh cranberry dance...

One reason I love this time of the year is because we can finally find fresh cranberries in just about any market. I always stock up and keep plenty in the freezer so we have easy access whenever the urge strikes to make something with them. I got a giant bag this weekend and began to use them in a bar recipe I made last night.

Cranberry-Orange Pistachio Bars starts out with a light shortbread-esque base using small amounts of butter, sugar and a mix of whole wheat pastry and all-purpose flours. This crumble mixture (which reminded me of a lemon bar base) is easily patted into a baking dish and bakes just until the edges turn a light golden. While waiting, a sweet orange-infused topping is created with sugar, flour, eggs, fresh orange juice and zest, chopped cranberries and toasted pistachios. If you have access to one, I highly suggest using a food processor to chop the cranberries - these little guys love to bounce all over if you do it by hand. Just pulse them a couple times so they are still a little chunky. Once assembled on the pre-baked crust, the bars bake until they puff up and the center is set. Sweet and just a little tart, being paired with the pistachios was a great choice as the color combination is perfect for a holiday cookie tray! After cooling and a small taste-test, Jeff and I both agreed that they needed to rest overnight for the flavors to develop - they were "pretty good" last night, but they were much better today. If you want them to cut clean, you will have to refrigerate them anyway - they are a little gooey in the center, but will firm up quite well after chilling a few hours.

The side for tonight's dinner used a new-to-us vegetable - Rainbow Swiss Chard! I don't know why we waited so long, but this is good stuff! If you ever need a quick side, Chipotle Cheddar Chard is a great choice to use up both the stalks and leaves of this fun colored vegetable. Since the stalks are more tough, they are cooked first in a bit of olive oil and onions. Once tender, fresh chopped tomatoes, chicken broth and ground chipotle are added and brought to a simmer. The leaves from the chard are then added and the skillet is covered to gently steam them. As they soften, the cover is removed and sharp cheddar is scattered on top so it has a chance to melt in. I like how this is served with a bit of liquid, rather than being dry, as we found it brought a lot of extra flavor. The chipotle brought a smoky heat, but if you like things more mild you may want to reduce it to 1/4 teaspoon. Since we have never had this, Jeff was kind of just picking at it - but once he gave it a taste, the change in his face told me he was sold! Now I'll have to go and seek more recipes using it!

Mashed Potato Gratin was probably created to be a side, but since we love potatoes I just increased the portion size and served it as the main dish tonight. Buttery Yukon golds are diced into chunks and cooked until tender. Once drained, rich fontina and earthy Gruyere are mashed in with a nob of butter, a dash of salt and fresh pepper. Warmed milk is then mashed into the mixture - you can take this to whatever consistency that you like, but we left it a little chunky. This is scooped into a baking dish with more of the cheeses scattered on top. Since this is covered and baked until gooey and pipping hot, a quick trip under the broiler adds a fantastic golden color to the melted cheese. Creamy, a little nutty from the cheeses and definitely filling - I don't see how this could be anything but pure love in the form of comfort food... like giving a great big bear hug to your stomach. One note - I did leave the skin on the potatoes as that is what we prefer, but you can peel them if you wish!


  1. Everything looks delicious. I must admit, I've seen red Swiss Chard but never rainbow - obviously I'll be on the lookout.

    Those cranberry bars are to die for!!! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Joe, This all sounds very Thanksgiving-ish. I like the idea of chard as a side dish...Have you thought about your Thanksgiving menu yet? Eric and I are still figuring things out...

  3. Looks great Joe! Those cranberry bars would be perfect for the holidays, the pistachios especially are intriguing.

    Now, about that gratin... do you think that could be assembled ahead and chilled, then baked just before serving? That looks like a nice way to do mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

  4. Ruth - I can only find it at one store around here, but it was worth it!

    Shaun - We are still in planning mode - but it is just us two, so we probably won't be doing very much!

    Erika - I don't see why not - I bet they would be an awesome side for TG!