Sunday, November 8, 2015


Here's my November column from the Petaluma Post:

What fruit grows on an evergreen shrub, floats and bounces?  Yes it is our holiday staple turned main stream, the cranberry.  Considered by most as an essential on the thanksgiving table, this simple berry is now common year round; from turkey sandwiches, to vinaigrette, to cocktails, and even cookies. From craisins to juice, cranberries’ health benefits are numerous, being high in antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C, it is considered a super food.

Native to North America they were first commercially cultivated in 1816 in New England, but are now grown across the northern United States and southern Canada.  Now over 40,000 acres are grown each year, lucky for growers they are a hearty plant and some in Massachusetts are over 150 years old!  Harvest season runs through September and October so they are ready for the store shelves in November and December. Cranberries are one of only three fruits that can trace their roots to North America (the others are concord grapes and blue berries).

I have always been a cranberry fan, personally I like jellied cranberry sauce, it is a favorite snack; I’ll just grab a small can for a snack or even breakfast on the road.  It’s a great addition to trail mix, and our cranberry golden raisin oatmeal cookie is a signature for the catering company (it’s our most popular cookie, surprisingly even more than chocolate chip).  The tang of Craisins with the sweet of the golden raisins is a perfect match.

Cranberry Golden Raisin Oatmeal Cookie
1 cup Butter, salted
1 cup Sugar, brown
½ cup  Sugar, white
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Eggs
2 cups Flour, all purpose
2 cups Oatmeal, Quaker
2 tsp    Baking Powder
1 cup   Craisins
1 cup   Raisins, golden

Cream the butter and sugars together.  Then combine with the eggs and vanilla with the cream.  Next blend the flour, oat and powder with the mixture.  Finally combine th craisins and raisins.  Next you can either (the regular method) table spoon dollops on to a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes, OR you can use the super-secret professional method: scoop 2 to 3 oz balls of dough onto a pan (they can be closely packed to save room) and refrigerate them for a least a day (this allows some cooking chemistry to take place which will yield a better cookie), then space them appropriately on a cookie sheet and bake.  Another secret: once the baking is done (as soon as you take them out of the oven) give the sheet pan a good rap on the counter to make the cookies fall; they will stay chewy that way.

As a seasonal touch for lunches I love to add Craisins to salads.  Local greens tossed with Craisins and candied pecans is a great start.  Whole grains are very healthy and popular.  We recently did a barley salad with baby kale and Craisins

Barley Kale Craisin Salad
1 cup barley
3 cup Water
1 tsp salt

Combine ingredients in a sauce pot with a little extra room, bring up to a boil, then simmer 25 to 30 minutes, until tender.  Drain any excess water, and cool.  Then combine all with:
4-6 oz baby Kale or shredded Kale
½ cup Craisins
½ cup shredded carrot

And add dressing to taste:
¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together

This salad holds up very well and can be made a day in advance.

Those that know me, know that I do enjoy a cocktail!  For many years cranberry juice and vodka was my go to, cosmos are another favorite.  Several years ago my husband Jim and I hosted a nontraditional thanksgiving block dinner; you had to use a thanksgiving ingredient but non-traditional way.  We created a personal cocktail we call a Happy Pilgrim.  Yes it will make you a happy pilgrim.

Happy Pilgrim
1 shot wild turkey bourbon - must have turkey!
1 shot ginger beer
2 shots cranberry juice
1/3 shot orange bitters

Shake and serve over crushed ice, garnish with a fresh cranberry.

Now that we talked about thanksgiving what about Christmas?  Cranberries’ bright red color is a festive touch, Native Americans used crushed cranberries as a dye for clothing, use them for a pop of color in center pieces, and, of course, in food.  I think fresh cranberries are a great addition to scones for Christmas breakfast.

Cranberry Scones
4 oz butter (cold)
3 cups flour
2 Tbl baking powder
¾ cup sugar
6 oz buttermilk
6 oz cream
½ cup craisins

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the dairy and mix until just combined.  Mix in the craisins.  Next press into a disk about ¾ of an inch thick, and cut into pie wedges.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until firm and golden brown.

Remember to enjoy cranberries through the holiday season, and don’t forget to throw an extra bag in the freezer for later use.

Pop Goes the Popcorn

Here's my October column from the Petaluma Post:

After school for the kids, a snack at your favorite game or snuggled down on the couch for a movie it’s time to have popcorn.  A funny story, hubby and I while trying to eat healthy, avoiding simple carbs and adding lots of whole grains to our diet, where debating if popcorn was really a good choice since is all carbs; were they good carbs or bad carbs; then the ‘duh’ moment passed as we both looked at each other realizing that popcorn is literally whole grain!

It is a healthy snack, although if you go over the top with toppings it could go the other way!  But 1 cup of air popped only has 31 calories, and only 54 in oil popped.  Toppings can run a huge range, but you really only need a light coating to add a lot of flavor.

What makes popcorn “pop”?  A dense starchy center expands to release moisture when heated until the outer hull breaks and the starch puffs.  Did you know you can also “pop” amaranth, quinoa and millet?  I would not suggest trying it, like corn there are many varieties and finding the one with the right combination would be difficult, but it would be an interesting experiment.

Popcorn came in to popular demand during the great depression, being inexpensive it replaced candy that was in short supply due to sugar rations. To this day the United States is the number one popcorn producer.  We even have a National Popcorn day on January 19th!

But what can you do with popcorn?  It is one of my favorite canvases, you can take almost any flavor in the world and create a custom popcorn.  I love it at home, and the catering company has seen it as trend over the past few years of people wanting special popcorn at events.  However we need to start at the kernel.  I will be upfront I prefer Orville Redenbacher.  I have popped many different brands and find theirs is the lightest and pops up the best, leaving the fewest old maids.  Those last kernels at the bottom of the pot that have not popper are called “old maids”. 

I’m always surprised that so few people pop their popcorn in a pot.  I see lots of microwaved popcorn and special popping devices, but just a little and kernels in a pot is so simple and I think a better product.  But I suppose the biggest question everyone has is how much unpopped to use?  You don’t want it overflowing everywhere!  The rule of thumb is a quarter cup of kernels will yield 2 quarts of popped, a good serving for 2 people.

Stovetop Popcorn
3 Tbl vegetable oil
¼ cup popcorn kernels
2 quart pot with lid

Place pot over medium high heat and add the oil.  Allow the oil to heat about 1 minute, then add 2 or 3 kernels of corn to test it.  Once they hit the oil they should begin to put off a string of little bubbles (steam escaping the kernel) this is when you add the rest of you popcorn and put the cover on.  Popping should begin in 2 to 4 minutes; be patient and leave the lid on.  Turn the heat down to medium and shake the pot gently until you hear fewer and fewer pops; I usually count 10 to 15 seconds between pops at the end.  Remove from heat, and crack the lid open to allow the steam to escape, then wait 3 to 4 more minutes for any last kernels to pop.

Now for the toppings!  I am a butter girl and honestly the more the better, per 2 quarts of popcorn I use 4 tablespoons of butter.  The surface of the popcorn is dry and you will need some fat to help your flavors to adhere.  I have also been known to spray the popcorn with cooking spray to help. Drizzle the oil or butter component over the popcorn, then toss the dry ingredients well.

Some of my favorite flavor combinations:

Truffle Oil with Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Tbl Butter, melted
1 tsp to 1 Tbl Truffle oil (per your taste)
4 Tbl Parmesan cheese, grated
This produces a rich full flavored popcorn goes great with red wine.

Curry Parmesan Popcorn
4 Tbl melted butter
4 Tbl Parmesan cheese, grated
1 to 2 Tbl Curry powder
This is a spicy fun combination with a lot of zip.

Mexican Popcorn
3 Tbl Olive oil
4 Tbl Cotija Cheese, grated
1 lime zested
1 tsp to 1 Tbl Chili powder (per your taste)
Try a little cayenne if you like it spicy.

I won’t go into the sugary varieties, there are plenty of recipes out there on the internet for that, and they usually take a bit more time and prep.  Have fun, experiment with herbs and spices, the key is just to make sure they are finely ground.  Enjoy.