Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cranberry Port Sauce

My aunt has always made the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.  Ever since I was three she has made a reduced sugar version because my brother had recently been diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes.  Her cranberry sauce is still sweet but it retains some of the tartness of the cranberries.  When you eat it paired with turkey you understand why cranberry sauce traditionally accompanies turkey, the bright tartness really balances the flavor of the meat.

I have tried on several occasions to recreate her recipe.  The first time she gave me a very general list of what was in it.  The sauce I made that time was not sweet or tart enough.  Last year I made the cranberry sauce with her, watching carefully as she pulled out her old newspaper clipping and adjusted the recipe to our tastes.  I tried again to recreate her version, although I did not have the original recipe as a guide.  In the end I think I did not have the right type of citrus, or I was just too heavy handed with it.  Whatever the reason, my latest attempt was too orangey and not balanced.

So I went a different route, finally trying a recipe a friend had mentioned years ago.  I lowered the sugar, replacing it with golden raisins, a trick I picked up from making cranberry sauce with my aunt.  The finished sauce is complex, tart enough to balance the turkey, but after a day or so sweet enough that I loved it spread on a crepe.  If you make it now you can freeze it until Thanksgiving.  Just pull it out to defrost one to two days before the big day.

Cranberry Port Sauce
adapted from Gourmet

This sauce can be made weeks or months ahead of time and frozen until 1 to 2 days before serving.   When it is first cooked it will still be very tart, as it sits the flavors blend and the raisins impart more sweetness to the sauce.  Do not add more sugar until it has rested for several days.  I have made it with lemon and also with tangerines, clementines and tangelos would also be good.

12 ounces cranberries, rinsed and picked over
3/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cups golden raisins
1 cup Port (Choose Tawny or Ruby, either is fine)
1 tsp freshly grated lemon or tangerine zest (don't worry if you have slightly less)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon or tangerine juice (don't worry if you have slightly less)
1 cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a medium pan and simmer until the berries have all burst and the mixture has gelled.  Allow to cool before placing in a container in the refrigerator, or freezer for longer term storage.  Alternatively you can can it.  Follow the canning directions here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tuscan Cannellini Beans with Sage and Onions

With the end of Halloween I can begin obsessively planning Thanksgiving dinner.  Although I must confess, I started planning the menu for Thanksgiving long before October 31st.  Even before I became excited about costumes by realizing Lewis and I could join our chimney sweep and chimney as Mary Poppins and her umbrella, I was testing recipes for the end of Novemebr.  This is the first year Thanksgiving will be in Vermont, moving north from New York City.  With this change of state I decided it is time to change the menu as well to one that is local and seasonal with a protein for my vegetarian sister-in-law.  So this year there will be no ratatouille or string beans on the table.  Instead I will be serving Savoy Cabbage Gratin made with St Andre cheese, a vegetable dish I have not yet settled on, and these savory, sensuous, cannellini beans.

I make cannellini beans with escarole and my boys always love it, however they only tolerate the escarole, eating just a token amount. The part they love and happily devour is the beans.  This dish is more layered with flavor then the beans alone from beans and escarole, rich and full of flavor.  Cooking the sage in the oil before adding the beans makes the sage richer and softer and its flavor more nuanced in the finished dish.  This will be served here often, not just for Thanksgiving.

From Scratch Cannellini Beans (Think of this as a blank canvas for many meals)

I always soak my beans because I prefer to spend less time waiting for them to cook with the burner on.  If you forget to soak them or just prefer not to it will take longer to cook your beans but they will still cook.  If not soaking your beans start the cooking with 2 minutes of a hard boil before turning down to a simmer.

3 cups dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
Water for pre soaking plus 6 cups water for cooking
1 fresh bay laurel leaf (if unavailable use dried)
2 tsp kosher salt (If you do not cook the beans with salt they can be salted later but they will never be seasoned all the way through)

Put the rinsed beans in a large pot and cover with 9 cups water.  Bring the pot to the boil and boil hard for 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off under the beans and cover the pot.  Leave out at room temperature for 2 or more hours.  I often soak my beans after boiling for longer with no ill effects.  Alternatively you can soak the beans at room temperature in cold water for 6 to 8 hours before cooking.

 After soaking drain and rinse the beans and place back in the stock pot.  Cover with 6 cups of water (You will need more water if you never soaked them) and add the bay laurel leaf and salt.  Bring to the boil over high heat, lower to a simmer and cooked partially covered until tender.  My beans cooked in around 45 minutes to an hour.  If you did not soak your beans first expect them to take longer to cook, also if your beans are not fresh they will take longer to cook.

Tuscan Beans with Garlic and Sage
Adapted from Rose Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian

3 small to medium onions chopped (or 1 large and 1 small)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp fresh sage chopped fine
1 recipe From Scratch Cannellini beans with liquid or 6 14 oz cans cannellini beans
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
lemon for serving

Saute the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, add the garlic and chopped sage and cook until both the sage and garlic are fragrant, a few minutes.  Add the beans and their liquid and stir well before covering and cooking over a very slow simmer for with the lid on for about an hour.  f you are pressed for time you can cook the beans for less time but the flavor will not be as complex.

Season the dish with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste before serving.  Delicious when first made but even better after the flavors have mellowed in the fridge overnight in the fridge.  We enjoyed it hot, warm and cold (well, Sebastian did not like it cold).  My plan is to make it a day or two ahead of time and serve it at room temperature for Thanksgiving.