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all that’s left

December 27th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There isn’t much now, that signifies Christmas was only two days ago, other than the abundance of chocolate in the house, the presence still of a tree with glittering ornaments and other holiday decor. The gift bags are empty and some treasured new items have been absorbed in to our days. Everyone seemed to have a good time this year. The stocking hunt was successful…..

The cats received fun new toys that they enjoyed…..

And there was plenty of gatherings, with laughter, delicious food and wine, more cookies than one could shake a leg at, and little children with bright happy faces. But just like that, the planning and preparing and decorating and plotting and going and coming and caroling and waiting waiting waiting was over…… *poof*…… just like that. You wake up on the 26th and it’s back to normal, back to reality, back to work (for some) and another Christmas is done. It seems like so much anticipation, and then in a blink it’s gone.

Some aspects remain, memories made and smiles shared and a new gift to use or enjoy. Or maybe, what remains most prominently is a smidgen of the amazing Cranberry Pound Cake that, on a whim, I whipped together and pushed in to the oven, before dashing upstairs to shower an hour before guests were due to arrive. It was still baking, rich and fragrant and eliciting all sorts of ‘What IS that in the oven?’ queries when my family arrived, and before coats were even shed.

And me, nonchalantly trying to avoid panicking, since the cake seemed off when I shoved the pan in the oven and raced off with a prayer, I just shrugged and said ‘Cranberry cake’ as if I’d just, you know, trimmed a nail or something because I really had little confidence it was going to be worthy of Christmas dessert. It was a blind preparation, something I’d never made before and I had everything I needed and took a chance. It seemed simple enough.

And thankfully, the alchemy of eggs, sugar, butter, flour and a hot oven created a masterpiece that I can’t wait to make again.

I get a bit overly excited each year when faced with orbs of fresh deep red cranberries in the store, and often stockpile as many bags as I dare in the freezer to use over the winter months. I spotted this recipe at Apartment Therapy (as usual….) and tucked it away to try, then of course, got caught up in the crazy whirlwind of pre-Christmas and neglected to make a dessert for our family gathering. But…. like I said, it worked despite a few reservations. In fact, it worked so well that I already am thinking about another go of it. I mean, by golly the initial cake isn’t even gone from it’s plate and I want another one. That HAS to be a good cake, right? It’s got an amazingly rich, yet light taste and a dense sponge to the cake, sweet but not cloying. Pops of deep cranberry flavor are laced with pure almond taste, and the crumbly sugary crust is simply divine. You could make this for an amazing dessert to impress, or you could just make it for yourself as a phenomenal treat.

Cranberry Cake

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups cranberries (1 bag)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan or a 10″ springform pan. You can also use a standard Bundt pan, or 10″ tube pan with removable bottom.

Beat eggs and sugar together for 8-10 minutes —no, this is not a misprint! …. the egg and sugar mixture should double in volume and turn pale yellow, leaving thick and shiny ribbons of batter when you lift the beaters. This is the only leavening in the cake so make it good and fluffy.

Add the butter and flavorings and beat for 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Pour into greased pan.

Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9×13, or a little over an hour for the springform, bundt or tube pan. You made need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning too much.

Cool completely before serving.

Optional pecan topping: 
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, toasted

Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the toasted pecans and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter and bake as above.

Original recipe, from Faith Durand at Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn.

~~~Next time I make this cake, I think the addition of fresh orange juice and freshly grated orange zest would be wonderful. Also, a scant 1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg would also be marvelous. So many possibilities!!!

The flavor of Winter

January 6th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Cranberry and orange is a classic combination, and even the thought of it brings me swiftly back to Christmas as a child when my Mom would pull out her superbly old hand-cranked food grinder and clamp it to the counter edge to make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that filled our kitchen with the lively tang of oranges and the tart haze of cranberry. My sisters and I loved standing at the counter turning the crank of that grinder while Mom fed whole cranberries and oranges into the hopper, the pop and crunch of the fruit filling our ears while the mouth dripped it’s ruby mass into the bowl underneath. It was the scent of the holiday for us, more than a fresh ham baking in the oven, better than her scratch mincemeat or a simmering apple pie. I can zest an orange in the burning July sunshine, wearing shorts and a tank-top, and I will immediately be transported back to wintertime, as a kid again in Mom’s kitchen, fighting my sisters for a turn at the grinder. Back then, the tart cranberries were not to my liking, but I absolutely adored that smell.

The mix of cranberry and orange seems to be everywhere right now, and for good reason as fresh cranberries are in season. For some delicious winter baking, I grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed the promise of greatness found in this match.

There were scones first…..

I had to backtrack to find out exactly where this recipe came from, but thankfully came across it on LoveFeast Table so I can be sure to give proper credit. I’ve linked the recipe for you because I seriously suggest you make yourself a pan of these before too long. The flavors speak of winter, they require you to pour a steaming coffee to sip alongside, and will make you smile happily with delight. We all need that in the chilly months ahead.  This past year has been a big one for me in terms of muffins and scones. I like being able to put together a batch if the moment seems right, and you really can’t lose with anything that has some semblance of chocolate in it. Even when the chocolate is white. And these scones are tender, moist and airy. You’ll never purchase a coffee shop hockey puck again.

Then, even while there were still a few scones left over, I forged into a Cranberry Date and Orange quick bread to bring to one of our Christmas gatherings. It was so hard for me to wrap these loaves and slip them in the freezer to await our celebration, because when I knocked them out of the pans to cool, the smell that rose from them reached into my nose and tickled it immensely. I had to walk out of the kitchen in order not to rip a chunk off one to sample. Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of leftovers.


2 c. all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I started using sea salt in baking and I love the results!)
1 egg
1/2 c. orange juice
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 T melted butter or margarine
2 T. hot water
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. chopped dates
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans- but either is optional)

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, dates, water and butter. Heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the berries should start popping but you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Allow to cool until barely room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Beat egg separately. Add egg and cranberry mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in nuts, if using. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Double your food holiday fun

November 23rd, 2008 | 1 Comment »

One odd fact that I came across while reading up on food holidays was that National Cranberry Month is in October, but National Cranberry Day is today, November 23rd. I suppose the month of October celebrates when the fruit comes to harvest, but this day, and this day alone sanctifies all that mouth puckering, fruit popping goodness of cranberries.

I so think cranberries get a bad rap, and have really been shoved to the back of the superfood lineup what with the pomegranate, acai and other fabulous nutritional (and likely fickle) findings as of late. Cranberries are amazing little powerhouses that become so abundant this time of year that my market sells them off for less than $2 a pound. Being that this fruit freezes better than anything I’ve seen- well over six months is not at all unusual and 9-12 months is considered standard- it isn’t a stretch for me to stock my freezer all through the winter, and still be enjoying these bursting little orbs in the spring and summer. A nice roasted pork loin covered with cranberry and apples in the Fall is just as good as one grilled in the heat of summer and topped with chilled cranberry compote. Vanilla yogurt tastes divine with a scoop of cranberries stirred inside, and ice cream has the perfect palette to the tart and jeweled colors of the fruit. Just because the classic turkey and cranberry feast is almost upon us is no reason to abandon the cranberries once Thanksgiving is over.


For just a tad bit of history on our humble little star today- Cranberries are part of the evergreen family and grow on low creeping shrubs in moist acidic bogs in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. They are pollinated by the domestic honey bee and also go by the name mossberry and fenberry. Contrary to popular belief, and not in any deference to those Ocean Spray commercials, but cranberry bogs are not kept flooded during the growing season; they are only flooded at harvest time to facilitate removal of the fruit, and often during the winter to protect the vines, yes, even in chilly climates like Minnesota and Wisonsin where cranberries are a major crop. Nearly 95% of the crop is processed into juices, sauce and other packaged items; only 5% make it to US markets as fresh fruit. Cranberries have moderate levels of vitamin C, fiber and the essential minerals like manganese, as well as a balanced profile of other essential micronutrients. They also inhibit the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract, making them an excellent defense against infections. The tannins have anti-clogging properties and can help ward off dental plaque and gingivitis; they also help strengthen the immune and cardiovascular system and fight arterial plaque.

To make that fabulous looking cranberry compote, mix together one package of fresh cranberries (they can be added to cooking direct from the frozen state), one cup of dried cranberries, 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of water, a teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg and (optional) 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. I have subbed in honey for some of the sweetener with excellent results. The vinegar gives it a nice depth and added tartness- like you need it- and you can cut back on the sugar for more tart. Brown sugar gives the compote a deeper and richer flavor than white. Sub in white if you want but start with less and add in more if you prefer a sweeter flavor. I think a balance of sweet and tart is best for cranberries, after all, that’s what they’re all about.

And sharing the day with the glorious cranberry is Espresso- It’s National Espresso Day. We did a cappucino day at the beginning of the month, so I’m just going to step away from the keyboard and let this recipe shine.


Espresso Biscotti

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups pastry flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Cream together butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Mix dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Stir in the espresso powder, orange zest, chocolate chips, dried apricots, dried cranberries and almonds.

Shape dough into two equal logs approximately 12 inches long by 2 inches diameter. Place logs on baking sheet, and flatten out to about 1 inch thickness. Brush the log with egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven until edges are golden and the center is firm, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven to cool on the pans. When loaves are cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to slice the loaves diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Bake until they start turning light brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely, and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

KATE’S NOTES: I did not use either the orange zest or the dried fruit in this recipe; it’s a personal thing for me, and I imagine if it’s your thing it will be delicious. It just isn’t mine.

I added chopped dark chocolate to these. I don’t like to put whole chips in biscotti as they tend to snap out when you slice them so I took my chef’s knife to the chocolate to break it up. Big mistake- dark chocolate has far less moisture than any other chocolate, and that coupled with the dry November air meant there were little shards of chocolate ALL over my kitchen. And me. Chocolate that defied being cleaned up and simply fluttered every place I tried to wipe, sweep or brush. And if you use a wet rag, it just smears. Suffice to say I was cleaning up chocolate the entire time the cookies baked for the first step. The. Entire. Time. And I found it in lots of odd places for the rest of the afternoon. But oh, these cookies were delicious. SO well worth it!


Harvest Tea Bread

September 16th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

Harvest Tea Bread

1 c water
1/2 c. dried cranberries

2 T. dried currants
1 T. orange juice concentrate
1 t. balsamic vinegar

Bring water to a boil. Add fruit, concentrate and vinegar and allow to simmer to a thick paste- approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and spread on plate to cool to room temperature.

Zest and squeeze juice from one medium orange and reserve

In a large bowl, stir together:
1 c. sugar
1 c. chunky applesauce
1/3 c. oil
2 eggs
3 T. milk
2 medium sized tart apples, shredded
1 T. fresh orange juice
1 T. orange zest

2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg

Gently stir dried ingredients into wet until just combined. Fold in cooked fruit until loosely swirled.

1/4 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease & flour two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans.
Pour batter into loaf pans. Sprinkle with topping and drizzle 1 T. orange juice on each pan
Bake for 50 – 55 mins.or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 20-30 minutes then turn onto cooling rack. Can be wrapped well and frozen.