November 27, 2012

Pear Cranberry Gingerbread Tartlets

It's hard to pin down just one flavor of fall. I can never decide between spices, gingerbread, cranberries, apples, pears, and many other delicious ingredients. Oh, and a pop of citrus doesn't hurt, either. The best thing about these tarts? They have a bunch of those flavors. You can pick out notes of cinnamon, molasses, orange, and caramel, not to mention the velvety spiced pears and the tart cranberries. The recipe is a bit complex and has multiple components, but it is worth the time and effort to build the layers of flavor.

The crust is always my favorite part of the pie (or tart). Sure, plain or chocolate is delicious, but this is a spiced gingerbread crust. It is rich and buttery with that unique molasses flavor, and it is a great base for all the other ingredients. The crust stays crisp and is the perfect foil to the tender fruit piled on top.

These are not your average pears; they are tossed in orange juice and cinnamon and sweetened with brown sugar. I add cornstarch to absorb some of the liquid, keeping the crust from getting soggy. I then fold in some fresh cranberries. They are only available this time of year, so I buy a few pounds and freeze them. This is one of my favorite cranberry recipes because they add a beautiful color and tang. They almost roast in the oven to caramelize and shrivel, like little cranberry raisins (craisin lovers, this is for you!).

The final piece of this delicious puzzle is the orange caramel. Yes, you read that right. Orange. Caramel. All of the goodness of sticky-sweet caramel is perked up by a dose of orange. I use both orange zest and juice to boost the flavor while retaining the right texture, and you can always add more to heighten the citrus flavor. I drizzle it on top of the fruit before baking so the fruit absorbs some and the rest thickens to bind it all together. If you have any left over after drizzling and licking the bowl (don't worry, I won't tell), you can spoon it on top of the finished tartlets. The orange balances the cranberries and pears, and the gingerbread crust has a pleasant aromatic quality that pairs well with the orange. I love this recipe for the color and the flavor, and it is just the quintessential fall recipe.

2 1/4 Cups Flour
1 Cup + 2 T Dark Brown Sugar
2 tsp Ginger
1 T + 1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp Cloves
3/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks + 1 T Butter, Chilled
2 Egg Yolks
3 T Molasses
6 Pears, Diced
1/4 Cup Orange Juice
1 tsp Orange Zest
2 T Cornstarch
1 1/2 Cups Cranberries
1/2 Cup Cream

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, 6 T brown sugar, ginger, 1 T cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and salt. Pulse in 1 1/2 sticks butter. Combine the molasses and egg yolks and add to the mixture. Chill for 15 minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, orange zest, cream, and remaining butter in a small pot. Boil until thick, then whisk in 2T orange juice.

Preheat oven to 375F and grease 14 4" tartlet pans.

Roll the dough to fit the pan and chill until firm. Prick.

Combine remaining cinnamon, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and cornstarch. Combine the pears, remaining orange juice, spice mixture, and cranberries.

Spoon the fruit mixture into the pans and drizzle with caramel. Bake for 15 minutes or until pears are softened and crust is crisp.

Make 14 Tartlets

November 18, 2012

Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes

Admit it; you love those sweet potato dishes that are so full of marshmallows you can barely taste the potatoes. They are tasty, but sometimes you want some sweet potatoes that taste sweet but also taste like sweet potatoes. This is that dish.

The sweet potatoes alone have a wonderful contrast of textures. I cut them into two-bite pieces that get crispy on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside. Those are then tossed with crunchy bits of pecans and a sticky, buttery maple syrup glaze. It tastes like fall but is also reminiscent of those marshmallowy casseroles that everyone is addicted to.

1/3 Cup Chopped Pecans
1 1/2 lbs Sweet Potatoes
2 T Oil
2 T Butter
1 1/2 T Maple Syrup
Pinch Chili Powder

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes.

Heat oven to 350F.

Spread the nuts on a cookie tray and toast until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool.

Heat oven to 400F.

Toss the potatoes in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a cookie tray and roast until tender and golden, about 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Melt the butter in a small pot. whisk in the maple syrup and chili powder and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the pecans and drizzle over the potatoes.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Aida Mollencamp

November 11, 2012

Garlic & Mustard Green Beans

Green bean casserole is a Thanksgiving staple, but I have a refreshing change. These green beans are packed with flavor and are so easy to make. They are much faster than other recipes, too, so you can spend more time making other delicious foods. I love the combination of sweet roasted garlic and sharp mustard, a perfect foil for tender green beans. This recipe is sure to brighten your Thanksgiving feast, but it is also easy enough to make any time of the year.

1 lb Green Beans, Washed & Trimmed
6 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
2 T Olive Oil
1 1/2 T Mustard

Heat oven to 450F and line a cookie tray with foil.
Toss the beans with the garlic, olive oil, and 1/4 cup water. Spread on the prepared tray and roast for 15 minutes.
Toss the beans with the mustard immediately and season with salt and pepper.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

November 7, 2012

Roasted Mushrooms

In Thanksgiving dinners, mushrooms tend to assist other dishes instead of being the star; this recipe will change all of that. You will want to have these instead of your turkey, your stuffing, even your pie. They are just that good. There is a bit of an Italian flair with the balsamic and the garlic; however, the flavors are still relatively mild, allowing the dish to fit with the rest of your meal and letting the true earthiness of the mushrooms stand out. You can use any type of mushrooms you want, even mixing a few varieties together, but I like to use plain old white or cremini mushrooms. They cook just right: tender throughout and not burnt on the outside. I know you'll love this recipe because it is so easy and so delicious.
1 lb Mushrooms, Cleaned & Trimmed
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 T Balsamic Vinegar
2 T Butter, Cubed
Combine the garlic, oil, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the mushrooms in the marinade and let sit for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Heat oven to 425F and line a cookie tray with foil.

Spread the mushroom son the prepared tray and sprinkle with the butter. Roast for 10 minutes or until tender and browned.
Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Cheryl Bevergae Barnes

November 2, 2012

Glazed Carrots

My family loads our Thanksgiving table with rich, luxurious foods, but I always search for something to cut the wave of heaviness. These sweet and somewhat spicy glazed carrots are a fantastic way to break up y meal, and I'm sure you'll love them, too. This recipe is incredibly simple, and you can cook the carrots ahead of time and just glaze them before serving to make your day a little easier. The flavors are mellow and blend well together, but they are still unique. It is also a wonderful canvas for other flavors; feel free to throw in some orange zest or your favorite spices when you make the glaze. You can also change the amounts of chili powder or add some cayenne or hot sauce to alter the degree of spiciness. This is an excellent chance to experiment with flavors, and it will be delicious no matter what!

1 lb Carrots, Washed, Peeled, & Cut into Coins
2 T Butter
2 T Honey
1 T Lemon Juice
Pinch Chili Powder
Pinch Cinnamon

Bring some water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the carrots and boil for 8 minutes or until almost tender. Drain.

Melt the butter in the pot. Whisk in the honey, lemon juice, chili powder, and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper, then fold in the carrots. Cook until syrupy and tender, about 8 minutes.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Sunny Anderson