Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Obvious Solution

The other night I could not help but notice how cluttered my tiny little counter was becoming. While I was sitting at the dinner table I kept looking over and trying the mentally erase all of the things that had ended up there recently. Of course, there are some things that you just can't do much about: the spice rack, the microwave, the coffee maker, and the coffee grinder, which became a permanent addition when Erik decided to switch to whole bean coffee. Other than those things (which take up nearly half of the counter), I like to keep the rest of the space clear, because with 7 square feet (yes, I measured, and no, I'm not exaggerating) every inch counts. Nalgene can go in my work bag, travel mug can go in the cupboard, red wine...will drink soon, half a pound of cranberries as souvenir of the annual Cranberry Festival...must go. Clearly the solution is Cranberry-Orange Bread!

Nantucket has its own cranberry bogs in the middle of the island, and the harvest is celebrated each fall with a festival out at the bogs. I've been on island for five Cranberry Fests now, but this was the first time that I actually made the trek out to the bogs to see how it's all done. It was actually quite interesting. Once the bogs are flooded the berries some sort of picking tractor thing knocks the berries off the bushes.

The berries are partially hollow so they float to the top, where harvesters use these long flexible bands to
corral the berries.

A vacuum then sucks them out of the bog up to a washer/sorter, after which they're shot into a truck. Often photos of cranberry bogs show a sea of red berries, but really that's only the reality once all the berries have been
corralled into one area; when they first float to the top there is a lot more water than berries. While I was there I bought a pound (at a steep $5) to support Sustainable Nantucket.

The first half pound became homemade cranberry sauce which was so delicious that I ate it with spoon out of the container. I'll share that recipe as well, since it was ridiculously easy and totally beats canned cranberry sauce. The other half pound sat around for a while, and today met its match in a cranberry-orange bread, which may have been the first quick bread I ever baked. When I was in high school my boyfriend at the time gave me a copy of Christmas Cooking for Dummies. I'm sure there was some joke behind it, although I have since forgotten what it is. Since my family rarely prepares a Christmas dinner worth mentioning (half a chicken breast and leftover roasted veggies anyone?), I've never really had occasion to use it, other than to make the Cranberry Orange quick bread. I think the cookbook is still at my parents' apartment so I turned to my "basics bible"--Better Homes & Gardens Red Plaid Cookbook, and tweaked the Nut Bread recipe to make it Cranberry Orange Bread. While banana bread is always my quick & easy go-to quick bread, but this one even eclipses it for ease and few ingredients, since it only uses one
leavener and no spices. And with only one egg and 1/4 cup of oil, it's even healthier (that's my positive spin--it would probably be more accurate to say "less bad for you"). I even refrained from adding chocolate chips (Instead I ate a handful. Naughty me), although I suspect that would be a fantastic addition to make this more of a dessert-y bread, since chocolate goes exceptionally well with both orange and cranberries.

So without further ado, the recipe:

Cranberry Orange Quick Bread (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)

* 2 cups of all-purpose flour (or a combo of all-purpose & whole wheat if you like. I often replace just under half of the all-purpose with whole wheat for a
slight health kick)
* 1 cup of sugar
* 1 tablespoon of baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon of salt
* 2 teaspoons of finely grated orange peel (1 medium-large orange is perfect)
* 1 beaten egg
* 1 cup of orange juice
* 1/4 cup of cooking oil
* 1 cup of cranberries, coarsely chopped (or more...I used nearly 2 cups, just to get rid of them. A mini Cuisinart, such at the Prep or Prep Plus is a great tool for chopping the cranberries. Pulse a few times and voila, copped cranberries!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease the bottom and half inch up the sides of a loaf pan.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients and the grated orange peel in a large bowl

3. In a small bowl or in your liquid measuring cup combine the orange juice, egg and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined.

4. Fold cranberries into batter and pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

5. Cool and remove from pan. As with all quick breads, this bread is best if you wrap it up (once it's cooled) and store it overnight before slicing.

Basic Homemade Cranberry Sauce

The orange zest in this recipe adds that
je ne sais quoi and sets it apart from canned cranberry sauce. This recipe makes about 2 1/4 cups of cranberry sauce. If that's more than you'll need, halve the recipe and use the other half of the cranberries for the bread.

* 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries (available in most grocery stores this time of year)
* 1 cup of sugar
* 2/3 cup of water (replace some of the water with OJ if you like even more of an orange-y taste)
* zest of one medium-large orange (about 2 heaping teaspoons)
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often.

2. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until most of the cranberries have burst, about 10-15 minutes.

3. Remove from heat. Cool and store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cake, of the Upside-down Variety

I have to once again sing the praises of a Real Simple dessert. Last night I was flipping through the August issue trying to think of an easy dessert to make for my friend Erin, who is visiting this weekend. I was seduced by the picture of the Plum Upside Down Cake, and sold on the fact that all the ingredients are pantry staples, except for the plums, which are easy enough to come by. I was entirely too lazy to photograph my own cake, but it basically looked like the picture (victory!).

Note: this is Real Simple's photo. Not mine. Not taking credit for it.

The recipe was so fast and easy to prepare, and I have to say, absolutely delicious. Success. And it was nice to have a cake to celebrate the fact that my guest of honor just found out today that she passed the bar exam. Hooray. Cake for all!

Plum Upside Down Cake, (Real Simple Magazine, August 2009)
Serves 8-10

* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus an additional tablespoon
* 4 firm-ripe plums (I used black plums, but I'm sure any kind would be delicious), each one cut into 8 wedges
* 1/4 cup brown sugar
* 2/3 cup white sugar
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 3/4 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 2/3 cup sour cream (lowfat is fine)
* 1 large egg
* 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper

2. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and the plums. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the juices from the plums become syrupy, 3 to 4 minutes. Arrange the plums in the cake pan in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting from the outside. Spoon any pan juices over the top.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. With an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup of the butter and 2/3 cup of the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.

5. Pour the batter over the plums (you'll have to use a spatula to spread it around, since it's a thick batter). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 1 hour. Place a large plate over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Enjoy!!!