Homemade Cranberry Sauce

I’m fighting a case of bronchitis, as it turns out, so for the last few days I’ve had to skip running. I tried to do a long run on Friday, but had to cut it short – that’s when I knew I was actually sick. Had to stop at 5 miles and all of them sssllloooowwww.

But that’s okay, there haven’t been any food posts around here in a while so maybe we can do that while I wait to get back on the road. I have a race in 6 weeks but it is just a 12k, so as long as I get well in the next couple of days I won’t lose much fitness. Trying to not worry about it.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner now, and the new cranberry crop (grown right here in Washington state!) is in. When our family visited the Long Beach peninsula last fall (where cranberries are grown) I bought 5 pounds of cranberries. I froze them, and am finally down to my last pound or so.

I decided to put my remaining berries to good use by making and canning some cranberry sauce for thanksgiving and Christmas. Cranberry sauce is so easy to make and so much tastier and healthier when you make it yourself, I don’t know why anyone buys the canned stuff. Here’s how to do it:

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

4 – 5 cups whole cranberries (1 bag as sold in supermarkets)
1 cinnamon stick
1 satsuma or small orange, zested and juiced
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

If you want to preserve the sauce, you will also need some canning jars, or freezer containers.

The recipe makes about 4 cups, so 4 half pint jars or 2 pint jars. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries.

To Prepare

Put cranberries in a pot, and put the pot on the stove.

Add the cinnamon stick and zest plus juice of the orange.

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Add sugar and water, turn stove to medium high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

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Cranberries will begin to make squeaky noises and burst open as they cook. Continue to boil and stir occasionally until the mixture thickens – about 30 minutes.

If you plan to can your berries, put on a pot of water to boil while the cranberries are cooking, with enough water to cover your canning jars. Use this water to disinfect your jars and lids, and to can. More instructions on the canning after the next step.

Remove cranberries from heat after 30 minutes and pour into food mill, placed over a large bowl. You can skip this step if you like your cranberry sauce with whole berries. People at my house like it a little smoother, so I mill it before canning.

Cranberries before milling:

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Cranberries after milling. Love the color!

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To Preserve

While cranberries are cooking, put on a large pot of water to boil, with enough water to cover your canning jars when they are standing upright. Disinfect your empty jars and canning lids before use by placing them in the boiling water for a minute or two, laying on their sides. Remove from the water using canning tongs and place upright to dry with open end up while you finish milling the fruit. Don’t touch the insides of the jars or the underside of the lids to prevent introduction of bacteria.

After milling is complete and while sauce is still hot, pour the cranberry sauce into freezer containers, or your prepared canning jars.

If freezing, allow the sauce to cool before placing lids and putting containers in the freezer.

If canning, leave about 1/2 inch of headspace between top of sauce and the top of the jar to allow for steam expansion while canning in the water bath. This is what forces the air out of the jar and creates a good seal. Carefully place the canning lids and rings so that there is a seal that will still allow air to escape.

Place the covered jars into the boiling water. Water should cover the jars up to their “necks” but should not completely cover the jars – air has to escape and you don’t want water to get in.

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Keep the jars in the boiling water to process for 15 minutes. Listen for the Ping sound that indicates the jars have sealed. The number of pings should be equal to the number of jars. If you don’t hear the ping, pull the jars out of the water at 15 minutes anyway and set aside to cool. Listen to any unsealed jars as they cool – they may yet ping to indicate a seal. When jars are cool, test for a seal by poking the top of the jar – if there is no bubble, then you probably have a good seal.

If the jars don’t seal, you can refrigerate or freeze the sauce. They will still keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks but won’t be shelf stable.

If properly canned and sealed, the sauce should keep for up to a year unopened. After opening, the sauce will have a shelf life similar to any opened, canned jam if kept refrigerated.

Caveat – this recipe gives canning times for canning at sea level (which it is, where I live). If you live at altitude, or if you have never canned before, I highly recommend reading up here before you start. I have done my best to ensure this recipe is safe, but with any type of canning it is best to ensure you thoroughly understand what you are doing before you get started, to ensure food safety.

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Applesauce

The other day on my personal Facebook, I posted that I had made applesauce but wasn’t sure if I would post a recipe because it’s so easy, basically just 2 ingredients. I do have a few tricks for making it though, so I decided just to go with it.

Like a kajillion other recipes, this is crockpot applesauce – I think by far the crockpot is the way to go, because there is no stirring necessary. So you don’t have to spend your day babysitting the applesauce, you just turn it on and go.

However, unlike a lot of recipes I have seen, this applesauce is just dirt simple. It has no added sugar, no lemon, no butter. All of which I have seen added to recipes for no good reason, because if you are starting from good apples, none of that other stuff is necessary. Nothing but apples and cinnamon are necessary, and the cinnamon is optional.

In the picture below, is everything you need to make applesauce – apples, cinnamon, an apple slicer or a knife, a crockpot and a food mill. Four year olds are good helpers, but are optional. The crockpot does the cooking, the food mill gets rid of the peels (I don’t pre-peel), and the slicer is just because I’m lazy and don’t like to slice apples with a knife (although I end up doing it anyway since some apples are too big for the slicer).

Applesauce!

4-5 lbs. apples (tart ones with strong apple flavor are best)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional, but highly recommended)

(This is for a 3 quart pot – if you have a bigger pot, scale up).

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Wash and cut up the apples, remove cores and seeds, and put the apple slices in the crockpot. Peels can stay on if you have a food mill. I use Honeycrisp apples and they are the bomb, but kind of expensive. You can use any kind of tart apples. Granny Smiths are also good and usually cheaper and easier to find.

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See? Peels on. Trust me, it will be okay.

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Sprinkle one teaspoon of ground cinnamon on top of the apples. Cover the crockpot and turn to high for at least 4 hours or until apples are soft. You could also put them on low for 6-7 hours.

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When the apples are done cooking, they look like the picture below. They will be completely soft, and the color from the peels will have leached out into into the juice. This, along with the cinnamon, gives kind of a rosy tint to the applesauce. Possibly green peels would be more green. Something to keep in mind.

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Now it is time to use the food mill. Place your food mill over a bowl. Mine has different size screens so I use the largest one because I like my applesauce a little bit chunky. If you like yours smoother, use a finer screen.

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Use a ladle to give the cooked apples a little stir, and then begin ladling the apples into the mill. Begin milling – the mill catches the peels and turns the apple flesh into sauce. Every so often, remove the peels from the screen, then continue milling until all apples are processed.

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The end result:

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Applesauce is good cold, but it is really a treat when still warm and served with ice cream. It’s like apple pie without the pie crust – delicious!

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Peach Cranberry Pie

This is a pie I made to get rid of some frozen fruit I had in my freezer, and I sort of made it up as I went. I didn’t decide until I tasted the finished product that I would share it here, so I didn’t take a lot of pictures.

When I was reading about how to make a peach pie, I learned that peaches (especially frozen ones) are a bit tricky – you either have to cook the water out, or add a lot thickeners such as corn starch or flour. Personally, I tend to prefer the cooking method as it also serves to concentrate the flavors. But I decided to still add some thickeners to keep it from weeping out water after cooking, which leads to a soggy crust.

I also added cranberries because I like their tartness and just to make this a little bit more of an Autumn flavor.

Anyway, it turned out stupid good, so I had to share (and also remember what I did!). Thank goodness I have two children with 0% body fat that I am always trying to fatten up to help me eat all this stuff or I would be in trouble.

And it’s good that I run for the same reason!

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Stupid Good Peach Cranberry Pie

The Crust

Make the Perfect Pie Crust from this recipe, and freeze half the recipe. Refrigerate the half you will use for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling out. You can refrigerate and roll out while the filling cooks.

Peach Cranberry Filling
2 quarts frozen peach slices
1 cup frozen or fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon corn starch
1/4 cup cold water

Defrost the frozen peach slices in the microwave, then place in a large cooking pot. Add sugars and cinnamon and bring to a slow rolling boil. Rinse cranberries and add to the boiling peaches. Boil until mixture starts to thicken – about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While the filling cooks, and after the crust has refrigerated for about 30 minutes (or more), roll out the pie crust and place in the pie plate. Return to refrigerator until filling is ready.

After filling cooks for about 1 hour, dissolve corn starch in 1/4 cup cold water, add to the peaches and continue boiling on low heat about 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and make the streusel topping.

Streusel Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon salt

Using a pastry cutter (or your fingers) combine the above ingredients until the butter is well distributed throughout and there is no longer a lot of dry flour in the mixture. The mixture should stick together and look sort of chunky.

Assembling and Baking

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pie plate and crust from the refrigerator, and pour in the peach filling. Filling should fill the plate to a level about 1/4″ below the top of the plate. Don’t overfill the plate.

Sprinkle the streusel topping over the entire pie, covering all the filling, but mounded up somewhat in the middle. (It kind of flattens as it cooks).

Place the pie on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the pie crust and streusel topping are golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before eating.

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Notice the small hole on the side of the pie? Some pie tasters had to pick a little bit off the side…

All Pie’d Out

Tonight was the annual Book Fair and also the Pie and Cider Fundraiser for my older son’s elementary school. It also happened that I made Chicken Pot Pie for dinner. Naturally, in addition to dinner I did have to sample the dessert pies (apple and pumpkin) at the fundraiser. And now, much as I love pie, I can officially say I am all pie’d out for the night.

Of all the pies, I will say mine had the best crust. Pie crust can be tricky to make, but over the last couple of years I have figured out a basically foolproof recipe. People argue over whether a butter crust or an oil or lard crust is better. Butter crusts are supposed to be more flavorful and flakier, while oil/lard is easier to work with and crispier. My pie crust secret is not to choose between the two types of crust, but to combine the benefits of both – I do this by using butter AND oil in my crust. It always turns out really well.

Here is the recipe.

Chicken Pot Pie with Perfect Pie Crust.

Perfect Pie Crust

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, chilled
4 Tablespoons oil
1/2 cup ice water

Chicken Filling

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 small onion, chopped small
2 small peeled potatoes cut in 1/2 inch cubes
Flour to make a roux
Chicken broth
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
Salt, pepper and sage to taste
1/4 teaspoon thyme

Making the crust:

The crust must be made first and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

To make the dough for the crust, combine the flour and salt in a bowl (such as the bowl of a large stand mixer). Stir well.

Slice chilled butter into 1/4″ cubes

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Add cubed butter to the flour and salt mixture.

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Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour, until the butter is in consistent pea-sized lumps.

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Use a mixer on slow speed to incorporate oil to the flour and butter mixture, then very slowly add chilled water. When dough balls up, turn off the mixer. It is very important not to overwork this dough. Visible chunks of butter are good – they will make the crust flaky.

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Remove dough to a floured board. With floured hands, lightly pat together the dough. Do not knead. Roll the dough ball into a cylindrical shape and cut in half. Roll both halves into a ball, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

At this point you can also freeze this dough for future use.

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To make the filling:

Cube 2 cups of cooked chicken in 1/2″ cubes and set aside.

Finely chop a small onion. Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large sauté pan on medium low heat, and sauté the onions until translucent. Do not allow to brown.

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Cube 2 small potatoes in 1/2 inch cubes, and sauté with the onions.

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When onions and potatoes start to soften sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour to make a paste (technically, this paste is a roux).

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To the roux, add broth over low heat to make a thick gravy.

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When gravy has thickened, add in frozen vegetables. Mix well and reduce heat to low as you assemble the pie.

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Assembling the pie:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one ball of pastry dough from the refrigerator and place on a floured board.

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Using a floured pastry roller, begin to roll out the dough ball until it is large enough to fit your pie plate (recipe easily fits a 9″ plate when rolled to about 1/8″).

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Drape the first crust over the pie plate. Roll out the second dough ball in the same way and set aside while you fill the pie.

Spread the cubed chicken evenly over the bottom crust in the pie plate. Over the top of that, pour and evenly spread the vegetable/gravy filling. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sage and thyme to taste.

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Drape the top crust over the top of the filling. Fold back the crust 1/3 at a time to expose the bottom crust edge and brush it with water using a pastry brush. Fold the top crust back down to cover and repeat two more times, press the edges together to seal the pie.

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Cut off the excess crust – you can set this aside to roll out and make apple dumplings if you have enough left over. Use a fork to make a decorative edge. Poke some holes in the top and place in a 350 degree oven.

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Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

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Serves 4 – 6 people who like pie.

Banana Spice Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Nutella

Today we were having trouble with one of our cars, so going to the gym to work out wasn’t really possible. Evidently it needs a new starter, so we were down to one car. I did my long run yesterday, so it was supposed to be a recovery day anyway. However, when I don’t go to the gym I need to find something to do to keep Oleg (and myself) entertained. He likes helping with baking, so I decided to bake up some muffins. I had some old bananas around that were just right for making banana muffins, so I decided to go with that, with a few special tweaks. For instance we don’t put nuts in muffins – we put chocolate chips. Because they are better that way.

By the way, did you know that you can store overripe bananas in the freezer? It’s true. They always seem to go bad one or two at a time and you usually need 3 or 4 for baking. Just freeze them as they go bad and use them for muffins or banana bread once you have enough.

These are the muffins we made and they are every bit as ridiculously awesome as the name suggests.

Banana Spice Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Nutella

Dry Ingredients
2 cups flour (1 cup whole wheat, 1 cup white)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients
4 overripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Add Ins
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Nutella

Ready? Let’s go. Gather your ingredients.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl (I actually just used a large measuring cup), stir together the dry ingredients until they are well mixed. Set aside. Oleg wants you to know he was in charge of this part. He did a very good job.

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In a large bowl (I just throw everything into the bowl of a large stand mixer), pour in and mix together the wet ingredients.

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When all wet ingredients are incorporated, slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until wet and dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

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Stir in the chocolate chips.

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Grease a muffin tin with butter. Kids can help with this part.

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Scoop about 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin cup, filling each cup about 1/2 full (should fill all cups of one muffin tin). When tins are filled, scoop a small dollop of Nutella (about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon) onto the top of each muffin batter.

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Swirl a toothpick around in the Nutella and batter to give a marbled effect.

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Bake in oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (a little Nutella may stick, but the batter should not). Makes 12 muffins.

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Oleg gives these his seal of approval. You can trust him. Not only is he an excellent baking assistant, he’s also a noted connoisseur of baked goods. His first English word was “cookie,” after all.

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Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

For dinner tonight I made Stuffed Squash with Quinoa and Sausage. To save time and add a nice flavor, I used a quick cooking Olive Oil and Rosemary Quinoa and Brown Rice blend from Near East foods (here) as the base for the stuffing.

To save time, the filling can be prepared and squashes can stuffed ahead of time. To save even more baking time, the squash halves can be microwaved until soft prior to being stuffed. If this is done, the stuffed squashes will only require 20 minutes of baking time.

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Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash
1 box Nile Foods Olive Oil and Rosemary Quinoa blend
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
2 medium to large acorn squashes
1 small to medium onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb. chicken Italian sausage
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Prepare the Quinoa blend according to the package instructions, adding in 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage before cooking. Set aside and allow to cool.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat until translucent.

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Turn up the heat to medium and add the sausage.

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Brown the sausage, being sure to break up the sausage into small chunks.

Turn off the heat and add the cooled quinoa blend and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.

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Cut acorn squashes in half from stem to flower end (the pointy part).

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Scoop out the seeds. Cut a small slice of peel off each squash half so that they will lie flat on a baking sheet. If the flesh is more than 1/2″ thick, microwave the squash halves for 2 – 3 minutes or until flesh just starts to soften. Place the squash halves on a baking sheet.

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Stuff the squashes with the quinoa/sausage mixture. Use all the mixture, mounding the stuffing on top of the filled squash halves. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

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Bake about 30 – 40 minutes or until squash is completely soft when poked with a fork in the stem end. If cheese browns before the squash is done, cover the tops with tented foil (make sure the foil doesn’t touch the cheese). Makes 4.

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