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Good morning, January readers. Here is a challenge for sure, from Longtime Exchanger: "What to do with Christmas leftovers: the end pieces and small slices of a Christmas ham, one bag of raw cranberries, many stalks of celery and a whole chicken needing to be stretched to feed a hungry horde."
We begin today with a Christmas reflection, the kind that looks back on meals just served and analyzes what worked well. Ginny Gaines generously shared hers. She begins with the subject of sweet potatoes. We all know those sweet potato casseroles can be sugar-laden, and surely we all could do well with less. Gaines reported that "this was beautiful for Christmas, but would be great for any winter time meal. And it was delicious."
Cranberry Walnut Sweet Potatoes
4 large sweet potatoes (8 small to medium-sized served 6 adults and 5 children)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (may use the entire 12-ounce bag)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 tsp salt, divided
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted or raw
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives (or the green ends of scallions, chopped)
Scrub sweet potatoes and pierce several times with fork. Bake 1 hour at 400 degrees or until tender.
Meanwhile in a small saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. Stir in cranberries, maple syrup, cranberry juice and a sprinkle of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until berries have popped, stirring occasionally. Stir in walnuts and Dijon mustard; heat through.
You may prepare the sauce the day before and refrigerate it, covered. The day of serving, bring sauce to room temperature. Bake the sweet potatoes early so that they can cool enough to slice in half. When sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each lengthwise in half; sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt. Top each half with cranberry mixture; sprinkle with chives.
"The cranberry mixture is like a chutney and is tangy enough on the sweet potato to really be quite a nice mix of the slight sweet of the potato and the bite of the cranberry mixture," Gaines wrote.
"This next dish was quite a hit with my family, very easy but quite lovely on the table."
Spicy Balsamic Broccoli
2 bunches broccoli
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Trim the ends from broccoli and break florets so they're not just one big bunch to cook.
Thinly slice garlic cloves. In a medium bowl, toss broccoli and garlic with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Let it sit for 30 minutes or so.
Place all the contents of the bowl onto a baking sheet and roast until crisp-tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Pour into serving dish and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.
"For dessert," Gaines wrote, "here is Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries. I made this because it's great for gluten-free choices, is beautiful and quite easy. You can make the meringue up to two days ahead; store in an airtight container."'
Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (10-ounce) jar of lemon curd or make your own
Assorted berries (fresh or frozen strawberries and blueberries)
Heat oven to 225 degrees.
Whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Beat egg whites at medium high speed with heavy-duty electric stand mixer 1 minute.
Add cream of tartar and salt, beating until blended. Gradually add sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating at medium high speed until mixture is glossy, stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves. Do not overbeat.
Beat in vanilla. Gently spread mixture into a 7-inch round on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet, making an indentation in center of meringue to hold filling.
Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until pale golden and outside has formed a crust. Turn oven off; let meringue stand in oven, with door closed and light on, 12 hours. Store in airtight container.
You can put lemon curd into indentation and spoon fruit over it, or just put the fruit into the indentation and have the curd on the side for those who want it.
The next topic is regarding the previously printed meatloaf that calls for a can of Spanish rice. M.W. Halbrooks sent this advice: "To the reader looking for the La Preferida brand of Spanish rice at Publix, it wasn't as good for this recipe. It was too dense and not enough liquid (that is, tomato sauce) and I searched in vain for the onions and peppers advertised on the can. Unless I accidentally find something better, I will stick with the Clover Valley brand from Dollar General for this meatloaf. (We bought Van Camp Spanish rice when I was a kid, but I haven't seen any Van Camp products for years.)"
Let's continue this discussion of the perfect meatloaf, ingredients and toppings. My own generous sister was known for hers, slathered with ketchup and crisply ornamented with bacon. It made a fine meatloaf sandwich the next day, even served cold.
When you send an explanation of why you are doing certain things in your recipes, that is helpful. When you give possible variations, that helps, too. And suggestions for what to serve alongside your recipe are the frosting on the cake. Thank you for all the ways you help the rest of us cook well. So let's continue in this delicious vein all through 2014. Thank you for coming, always.
Just a Dash ...
This is a small-but-spicy hint from Nubia Dominick. Most Hispanic grocery stores as well as Amazon sell Tajin Clasico seasoning with lime, a little bottle of seasoning that is great with guacamole, on eggs, in salads and even sprinkled on pineapple. The dominant spices are chili and lime.