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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cranberry Pie




Have you ever thought of how much we tend to associate certain foods with specific seasons or holidays, often serving them only during a limited time period?

Cranberries are like that. Make some cranberry relish to go with the Thanksgiving feast, maybe make a cranberry dessert during the Thanksgiving to Christmas festive season, but then, except for the dried ones substituting for raisins, cranberries pretty much drop out of sight the rest of the year. 

Because of this seasonality, however, I learned long ago that fresh cranberries are often on sale at really low prices after Thanksgiving and, sometimes, after Christmas as well.

This year was no exception. I found the standard 12 ounce bags of cranberries at one store for only 35 cents each. Grabbing up several bags, I brought them home, froze some, and put the rest in the produce drawer of my refrigerator. (If purchased in good condition, the berries will last for more than a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.)

One of the reasons I like to stock up on cranberries has to do with another seasonal food: cherry pie is often featured around Presidents' Day, in honor of the George Washington cherry tree myth, and sometimes Valentines Day,  just because of the all-things-red kinds of menus.





The recipe that follows is one that will substitute very well for cherry pie, at a much lower price. Don't skimp on the almond flavoring, and do try my daughter-in-law's innovation of a graham cracker crust instead of the standard pie crust. In order to enhance the almond flavor that enhances the cherry-like flavor, I have subbed in some ground almonds for part of the graham crackers.  Of course, if you want the pie to really look like a classic cherry pie, you can spend lots of time making a lattice crust, but why bother when you can so much more quickly make this one that will taste just as good--or even better.

Cranberry Pie

12 oz bag cranberries--about 3 cups
1 3/4 c sugar
2 T cornstarch
3/4 c water
1 t. almond extract
graham cracker crust for 9" pie

1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and water in a large saucepan and stir until all the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

2.  Meanwhile, wash the cranberries, sorting out any that may have spots. Drain and add to the boiling sugar mixture. Continue cooking until all the berries have popped, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir often.

3.  Remove from heat and add the almond extract. Pour into the prepared crust and place the pan on to a pizza pan or cookie sheet.

4.  Put the pie and the pan beneath it, in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until the filling is bubbly all around the edges. If the edges of the crust begin to darken, place a ring of aluminum foil loosely over the edges.

Graham Cracker Crust

 1/3 c butter, melted
1 c graham cracker crumbs (about half a 12 oz package)
1/2 c ground almonds (approximately 2 to 2/12 oz)
3 to 4 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

1.  Prepare the crumbs by whirling in a blender or food processor. You may also place the crackers in a heavy plastic bag and roll over the bag with a rolling pin. Try to get the crumbs as even as possible.

2.  Melt the butter and pour into the bottom of a 9 inch pie pan. If using a glass pan, you can just melt the butter right in the pan in the microwave.

3.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and, using a fork or your fingers, toss the ingredients together until they are well blended. Press the crumbs firmly against the bottom and up the sides of the pan.


 (If desired, you can reserve a few crumbs for the top of the pie. However, I don't do that because, as soon as the pie is cut, I always manage to have some of the crumbs "migrate" to the top of each slice anyway, as seen in the photo below.)
















Potato Soup, and Variations



Winter weather has finally arrived, the richness of holiday meals is mostly past, and the time has come for simpler, more nutritious, frugal, and warming comfort foods. Here in Minnesota, we have the promise of weather perfect for being outside, enjoying the snow, even as our friends in the east are facing the "other side" of winter, with heavy snow to shovel, roads unsafe for traveling, and generally treacherous walks underfoot.

What better time for all of us to stay home and make some soup!

Potato soup is one of my favorite winter comfort foods. What I also like about it is the opportunity to make a giant batch and then toss things throughout the week to turn it into something else again. Cream of broccoli soup, New England clam chowder, corn chowder--all are soups that can start out with a basic potato soup.

Best of all, there are few "exotic" ingredients needed to bring bowls of steaming potato soup to the table, and, if you choose to go "rustic," i.e., without peeling the potatoes, the time to make a big batch will take relatively little time to prepare.

So let's get cooking. Here is the link to my post from last winter.

http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2015/02/basic-potato-soup-with-lots-of.html

(And, if you don't want to bother to go to the link, here is the recipe. For the variations, however, you will just have to give in and go to the earlier post.)


Creamy Potato Soup

(For the various vegetables, I have included several different measures to help you have a guide to amounts. However, feel free to adjust as you like.)

1/4 to 1/3 c canola oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (13 oz. or about 2 1/2 c)
4 stalks celery, diced (8 oz or about 1 1/4 c)
3 lb potatoes, cut into about 1 inch cubes (approximately 8 c)--I had a mixture of white, red, and russet potatoes for this batch
1/4 c chicken or vegetable bouillon powder OR 4 to 5 bouillon cubes
approximately 2 1/2 quarts water
12 to 16 oz pureed butternut squash (about 1 1/2 to 2 c)--if frozen, no need to thaw
3 oz chopped fresh spinach (app 2 c after chopping)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (I used bottled minced garlic today)
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1 t black pepper
1 12 oz can evaporated milk, either fat free or "regular"
1 to 1 1/2 c nonfat dried milk powder
4 oz processed cheese (like Velveeta in the rectangular yellow box)



1.  Pour enough canola oil into a large pot to just cover the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and celery and saute over medium high heat until the onions just start browning and the celery is slightly tender.



2.  Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes, cut out any spots and eyes, but do not peel. Dice into approximately one to two inch cubes. Add to the onions along with about 2 quarts of water and bouillon powder. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft.
3.  If desired, use a potato masher to break up most of the chunks of potato. (An immersion blender can also be used for this.) Be sure to do this before adding the spinach, to avoid ending up with a kind of murky green colored soup!
4.  Stir in the squash, spinach, and garlic, along with the basil, oregano, and pepper. Continue to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes (or until the squash is completely thawed if it is put in frozen).

5.  Mix the dry milk powder with a cup or so of water and add it, along with the evaporated milk, to the soup. Stir well. Cut the cheese into a couple of pieces and add. Stir until the cheese is melted and the entire mixture has returned to a slow simmer.
6.  Taste for seasoning and then serve or allow to simmer together for another 10 to 15 minutes. This is also very good the second day as well.

Ah. But no potatoes.

But...I have been asked, what if you don't have any potatoes in the house? While what my mom always said was "the Irish in me" leads me to always having potatoes--just as I always have onions and celery--I suppose this could happen in the event of an unexpected (or expected) blizzard. So, what to do without potatoes?

This basic recipe can easily be turned into a Cream of [insert your favorite vegetable here] Soup just by omitting the potatoes and replacing them with another hearty vegetable. Carrots, squash, even corn will work well. Parsnips or turnips? Hmmmm. I still haven't cooked with them so can't make any promises--would love to hear how these might turn out.

When omitting the potatoes, the soup will lose some of its creaminess. To replace this, stir about 2 to 3 tablespoons of flour (or corn starch) into a half cup of cold water or milk and then add this slowly to the rest of the soup ingredients about 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

OR...just look up a good recipe for a non-potato soup, like one of these:

http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2012/05/creamy-mexican-corn-soup.html

http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2011/01/italian-lentil-soup.html

http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2011/11/spaghetti-and-meatball-soup.html

Whatever you choose, enjoy a house full of the wonderful aroma of homemade soup, the best way to celebrate a snow day!