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Archive for February, 2013

Christmas Fruit and a Citrus Kick in the Ol’ Boxers

I had forgotten about a particular tradition until Lindz visited one of her professors before Christmas.  Her professor receives a box of citrus from one of his former students every year during Advent.  When Lindz showed up to visit, he had just gotten his yearly present and he realized that he couldn’t eat it all before it went bad.  So, Lindz ended up with a box of fruit.

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The Red Navel oranges (in the red tissue) were by far the best ones. Sweet, but with a prominent citrus tang.

The tradition that I forgot about was the giving of a certain bag of “goodies” at Christmas time.  This bag consists of an orange (maybe an apple too), nuts in the shell (usually peanuts), and some form of candy (candy canes, old fashioned ribbon candy, chocolate coins, etc).  With a bit of research on the good ol’ internet, I found that a lot of people used to get these in their stocking from their parents.  Personally, I received it from our priest every year as a youngster.  I’ve heard of this custom off and on over the years, but never knew the origin.  I’ve always assumed that it was a “healthy” and/or “inexpensive” gift.  But the more that I heard about it, it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t just a local Catholic thing, it was far more widespread phenomenon.  This year I finally took the time to do the research.  It turns out that the actual origins are pretty murky.  Frustrating, but not surprising.  On the web, a lot of people remember this as a kid, and many continue it with their own children.  Most people are comfortable with the answer of “I don’t know.  It was just something that grandma (or whomever) always did.”  They assume that it either came from the old country, (Italy, Poland, England, etc) or it dates back to the time when oranges were a rarity and hence an actual treat, or some combination of these two factors.  While I can see these two reasons being factors, it just didn’t feel right for how widespread and long lasting this experience is.

Wiki to the rescue!

In his (St. Nicholas) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes . Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him . . . and drops the third bag down the chimney (where) the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Ok, but how do we get from a bag of gold to an orange?  Here is where symbolism comes into effect.  The best explanation is that an orange is a similar color to gold and that oranges are similar in shape to bags of the shiny stuff.  Also, in some European countries, oranges have symbolized Jesus’ love for the world.  I’ve listed a bunch of the more interesting links that I’ve found at the end of this post.

Now that the history lesson is over, on to the food!

We weren’t eating the box of oranges as fast as we should have and they were in real danger of going bad.  So I had to come up with something to use a whole bunch of oranges at once.  I’ve had a venison loin sitting in the freezer since last fall and it seemed like it would be a perfect pairing for an orange pan sauce that I had in mind.

Since the sauce was going to be the star of the show, I simply cut the loin into medallions and pan fried them in a bit of oil.

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I’m not sure why I keep posting pics of frying meat, but it always look so good.  Well, that I love to see my cast irons being used.

As a side, I went with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic all mashed up together.

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I really love roasted root veggies and mashing them up makes for a nice variation. Especially if you plan on putting some kind of sauce on them.

Once the venison was fried off and resting, I made the pan sauce.  The recipe that I borrowed quite heavily from is the Orange Pan Sauce with Middle Eastern Spices from the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook.  I really wanted the sauce to be a “Friday-night-drunken-barroom-brawl” explosion in your mouth, so I went very heavy on the OJ and zest.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Shallots, minced
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 C Orange Zest
  • 3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 C Orange Juice
  • Salt

Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbs fat from the skillet (of whatever meat you are making).  Place skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute.  Stir in sugar, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond.  Add the orange juice, increase heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 C, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Off heat, season with salt to taste.  Spoon over meat and serve.

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Yes, it tasted even better than it looks.

I managed to create the citrus barrage that I was intending.  Plus, the other spices weren’t lost in all of the citric acid.  They were a nice background note in the sauce.  What is even better, is that the sauce worked equally well on both the meat and the roasted veggie mash.  All in all, I was quite pleased with this meal.  In fact, I am hoping the bag of lemons that we have in the fridge right now linger around a bit so I have an excuse to try this with a different citrus.

p.s.  Sorry if there is less snark in this post than usual.  Lindz has been hoarding our household’s share of it lately.

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An informative page, with emphasis on the Canadian Prairies.

A well-researched page (much more effort than I put into mine) that is a nice narrative.

This page looks at this Christmas tradition with regard to its English origin.

A sugar- and food-centric page that emphasizes the sweet and preservative aspect of fruit.

An interesting audio story from Minnesota Public Radio about the impact of a couple from Minnesota and their influence on the Christmas orange tradition here.

A not very helpful page with regards to Christmas oranges, but a still very interesting read.

A wonderful page full of Polish Christmas time traditions.

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More Soup From The Arctic Blast

As previously mentioned, we had a bitterly cold spell here a couple of weeks ago.  In addition to the French Onion soup, I also made a Smokey Corn Chowder. I was excited to revisit this recipe because I’ve only made it once and that was several years ago, and it was nice hardy and decadent soup to fight off the chills.

The recipe is adapted from a Real Simple magazine issue from, well, several years ago.

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces (the recipe only called for 8 oz, but I had to do something with the other half of the package, right?)
  • 1 large Onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 20 oz Frozen Corn
  • 3 lbs Potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 3 C low sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1 C Half & Half
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Scallions, sliced on a bias for garnish (optional, i.e. I didn’t have any)

Over medium heat, cook the bacon in a stock pot until crisp.

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You really thought I would only use a half a package of bacon!?!?

Remove the bacon and place on a paper towel to drain.  Remove all but 2 Tbs of the fat and return the pot to medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic, paprika, and red pepper, cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the corn, potatoes, broth, and half & half, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

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Insert wry and witting comment here.

With either a food processor or a stick blender, puree half of the soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer soup to bowls and garnish with the bacon and scallions.

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I think I’m starting to get the hang of these foodporn shots.

I prefer to tailor make up spice mixes as I go.  But lately I’ve been trying to use up some of the spice blends that have been sitting around in my cupboard for way too long.  What I’ve been doing is looking at what spices the recipe calls for and try and find one that matches the closest.  In this case it was Penzey’s Jerk mix.  I’ve got absolutely nothing against mixes (in fact, the Penzey’s line is quite superb),  I just prefer to make it up as I go.  I substituted around 2 Tbs of the Jerk seasoning for all of the spices in the above recipe.  It turned out quite well.

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Hey! Who are you calling a jerk?

Brinner

BRINNER (brin-er) noun; (1) An evening meal that consists of breakfast menu items.  (2) A contraction of the words breakfast and dinner.

Usage: Man, I love having pancakes and bacon for dinner!  It’s my favorite brinner!

Origin: I heard it from Matt D. sometime last year (see above usage).  I have no idea where he got it from.

One evening, I was rooting around the kitchen looking for ideas on what to make for supper and I was coming up with a complete blank.  Out of desperation, I asked Lindz if egg sandwiches were OK.  Fortunately, she said yes because we may not have eaten otherwise.  She even threw in the idea of using some breakfast patties that we picked up at the store.  Of course I had to one up her and found a partial bag of mozzarella that needed to get used and decided to throw that into the mix.

I toasted and buttered some bread, made a couple of over-easy eggs, and fried off the patties.  The real stroke of genius (hey, it’s my story and I’ll tell it how I want!) was to pan fry the cheese so that it would melt and get a nice crust on it.  Assemble the parts and enjoy with several napkins.

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I laughed out loud when I opened the package and saw how big the sausage patties were.

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This is the reason why Lindz told me fry eggs over-medium for sandwiches in the future.

Arctic Weather and Homemade Soup

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been having a proper Minnesota winter.  More often than not the highs were topping out in the single digits with wind chills hovering around -15 degrees Farenheit.  If you’ve ever lived in this climate, you know how appealing a piping hot bowl of soup can be.  In the middle of this cold snap, our friend Ring came over for a visit and I decided to make some homemade french onion soup.

This is yet another example of the necessity to properly read through the recipe and plan accordingly.  The first night I ended up staying awake until one in the morning cooking the onions.  Not the best thought out plan.  Of course, the other option was to be eating at 10 p.m. the next night.  But, I digress.

The recipe I used is from the 9th season of America’s Test Kitchen.

Ingredients – Soup

  • 3 Tbs Unsalted Butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 6 large Yello Onions (approx. 4 lbs), halved and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • Salt
  • 2 C Water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 C Dry Sherry
  • 4 C low-sodium Chicken Broth
  • 2 C Beef Broth
  • 6 sprigs Fresh Thyme, tied with kitchen twine (I just used a heaping Tbs of dried)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper

Ingredients – Cheese Croutons

  • 1 small Baguette, cut into 1/2″  slices
  • 8 oz shredded Gruyère Cheese (approx 2 1/2 C)  (I used Mozzarella because I’m too cheap to drop $20 on cheese for one recipe)

For the Soup:  Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed pot (at least 7 quart) with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 tsp salt.  Cover, and cook for 1 hour.  The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.  Remove the pot from the oven and stir, scraping the bottom and sides.  Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar.  Continue to cook the onions until they are very soft and golden brown.  This will take 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer.  At the 1 hour mark, stir the onions and scrape the bottom and sides again.

(This is a good stopping point if you want to split up the cooking.  Just let the pot cool and stick it in the fridge till you are ready to get back to the cooking.)

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First part of the cooking done and I was off to bed.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and place it over medium-high heat.  Using oven mitts to handle the pot, cook the onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, approx. 15 to 20 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the bottom of the pot is coated with a dark crust, approx. 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Stir in 1/4 C of water, scraping the bottom to loosen the crust.  Cook until the water evaporates and another dark crust forms.  Repeat the deglazing 2 or 3 more times until the onions are very dark brown.  Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, approx. 5 minutes.

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Starting to look like a proper french onion soup.

Stir in the broths, 2 C of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Scrape up any final bits of browned crust on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Increase the heat to high and bring up to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard the herbs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Liquid added, flavors melded, and almost ready to eat.

For the Croutons:  While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree F oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at the edges, approx. 10 minutes

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Lacking the proper bowls, I found an alternative path to get the crouton with melted cheese on top of the soup.

To Serve:  Adjust the oven rack to 6″ from the broiler and heat the broiler.  Set individual broiler-safe crocks on a baking sheet and fill each with 1 3/4 C soup.  Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (don’t overlap) and sprinkle evenly with the cheese.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, approx. 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

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Not quite the standard french onion soup presentation, but every bit of the flavor is there.

From start to finish, this recipe took me around five and a half hours to complete.  Granted, half of that time was waiting for the onions to brown in the oven, so it was time-consuming, but not very labor intensive.  Just make sure you give yourself a nice big block of time when you plan on cooking this.

Ring gave me crap about not properly melting the cheese on top, but my feelings would have been hurt otherwise.  Lindz said that this even surpassed the french onion soup at one of the restaurants where she used to work, which previously was her favorite.  Score one for the TJ!  For a relatively short list of ingredients, I thought that this method gave a nice depth to the flavor of the soup.