Cranberry Salsa? Why not?

Instead of cranberry relish, why not cranberry salsa? Every Thanksgiving, my grandmother made cranberry/orange relish. You know, the recipe from the back of the bag of cranberries? It looked beautiful in her tall, cut-glass compote and added the perfect amount of tartness to enhance the savory turkey and cornbread dressing.

My family doesn’t like gravy, so cranberry relish is what we continue to use to add that little somethin-somethin to our Thanksgiving plates. I serve it in a compote similar to my grandmother’s. But this year, I’m making a change.

cranberry salsa

I found a recipe for cranberry salsa when I was filing last week. I don’t remember printing it out, but there it was on my desk. When my sister and I started planning the Thanksgiving menu, I picked it up and read it. It’s served with tortilla chips so why not use it as an appetizer?

I like to have something for everyone to snack on in case I run long getting food on the table. Cranberry salsa seems like a perfect choice because the leftovers can be served with our meal in place of cranberry/orange relish.

Can the family weather a change in tradition without being grumpy? I’m pretty sure they can as long as the salsa tastes good. With that in mind, I made some this weekend to see.

Here’s what I combined:

2 jalapeño peppers

1 twelve-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, washed

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup minced green onions

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice              

1 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice

Remove stem and seeds from jalapeño peppers and finely chop. Set aside. Place cranberries in a food processor or food chopper and pulse until finely chopped. You want small pieces, not a smooth purée.

Place chopped cranberries in a medium bowl. Add sugar and stir together. Add jalapeno peppers, green onion, cilantro, orange juice and lime juice. Stir until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Serve with tortilla chips.*

I served the salsa with scoop-shaped tortilla chips. Half of the guests are gluten-free so having an appetizer that paired well with corn chips worked great. We had plenty for dipping and serving with a meal, plus a little left for later. As far as doing double-duty as an appetizer and meal accoutrement, we will have plenty.

The taste profile of this salsa relies primarily on the sour, bitter flavor of the cranberries tempered by sugar. In this sense, it’s not that different from my grandmother’s relish. It also contains some similar orange notes although those are less prominent. The addition of green onion, jalapeno, and cilantro will not detract from my turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, or black-eyed peas. From the taste profile perspective, I can’t see a problem substituting salsa for relish.

I love it when a dish can do double-duty! And I really don’t see any downside of using this salsa in place of cranberry/orange relish.

So, the decision is made! This year, our cranberries will be presented in the form of salsa! I mean, really, why not?

Happy Thanksgiving!

*The recipe I found online for this was written by Kat Jeter & Melinda Caldwell.

Easy Peasy Drop-Off Food

Let’s explore some easy peasy drop-off food for your gluten-free friends. It’s winter and I have 7 friends who are currently under the weather. Having a restaurant meal delivered to each of them would be quite expensive. Cooking a meal from scratch for each of them would be quite time-consuming. I’ve been looking for a happy medium.

I’ve settled on some simple combinations I can make quickly and drop off by the door. I’m keeping these gluten-free. By using non-dairy milk and cheese, many can easily be dairy-free as well. If you’re needing some similar options, here are a few ideas:

Potato soup (not dairy-free). Purchase already prepared mashed potatoes (not dried potato flakes). Place them in a large pot over low to medium heat. Thin with gluten-free chicken broth the desired thickness. Add a dash of garlic powder and fresh ground black pepper.

Make the soup even richer by stirring in some shredded cheese – cheddar, Monterrey Jack, asiago, parmesan, or a blend. If this makes the soup too thick, add more chicken broth. For extra flair, include some canned, fire-roasted corn and garnish with chives.

Carnitas enchiladas. Purchase prepared gluten-free slow-cooked pork carnitas, canned refried beans, cheese, soft corn tortillas, and gluten-free green enchilada sauce.

Place the pork in a large skillet. Add refried beans (about 1/2 can or until the balance looks right to you), cheese, and a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with garlic powder and cumin. Exact proportions can vary and this will still be delicious. Simmer for a few minutes while you heat the corn tortillas in the oven or in a skillet.

Fill each tortilla with mixture from skillet. Place open side down in a disposable baking pan sprayed with olive oil spray. Top with enchilada sauce and cheese. Bake at 350⁰ for 15-20 minutes or until cheese melts.

Because this starts with warm tortillas and fully cooked, warmed filling, there’s no need to bake for a long time. That means, I don’t worry about covering these with foil.

Chicken stew. Begin with 32 oz gluten-free chicken broth and a cup or two of water. Add a couple of shallots or half an onion and a clove or two of garlic that are peeled, but not sliced or chopped (you’ll remove them later). Sprinkle in some garlic powder and a few red pepper flakes. Simmer for a few minutes.

Add a drained can of diced potatoes, a drained can of black beans, and a drained can of corn (if desired). If more liquid is needed, add either chicken stock or water.

After the stew simmers for a few minutes, add some pulled rotisserie chicken. You may need to break the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Continue to simmer for a few minutes. Remove the shallots or onion and garlic. Taste. Add salt and black pepper if needed.

You can use only corn and potatoes. You can use black beans and corn, but substitute quick-cooking rice for the beans. There are many other options I haven’t mentioned that can be tailored to your friend’s tastes.

I like to put my deliveries in disposable, reusable containers that are microwave or oven safe so that my sick friend can reheat right in the container. I also don’t want them to have to worry about returning a dish.

Snack basket. When you’re sick, you may feel well enough to focus on necessities but leave it up to your friends to provide the frivolous.

If you know the kind of snacks your friend likes, put those in a basket or a cute bag along with a few magazines, a crossword or sudoku book, an adult coloring book, or a puzzle.

I include things like dried figs, cocoa dusted almonds, dried Bing cherries, candied or spiced pecans, gluten-free pretzels and hummus, corn or grain-free tortilla chips with individual size guacamole, a selection of cheese (look for samples), pepperoncini peppers, stuffed olives, summer sausage, gourmet chocolate bars, and unsweetened, flavored water.

The choices are truly endless!

Breakfast basket. These are easy to do and fill a gap that most people don’t think about.

Fill a basket or bag with an assortment of gluten-free bagels, donuts, banana bread, muffins, cinnamon rolls, rugelach, and English muffins. Add some gourmet coffee or tea and jam or jelly. Perhaps put in apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes.

Providing food to a sick friend is a kind gesture. Lessening the financial burden and time commitment for yourself is also a kind gesture. With easy peasy drop-off food, you can be kind to all involved.

Make Lemon Gumbo

When life gives you okra, make lemon gumbo. Life didn’t give me lemons last week, but it gave me some HUGE okra pods. A mere two days away from the garden and tiny pods grew so big my grandmother would have disinherited me for not picking them sooner.

The pods weren’t really hard or dry, but they were large and slightly tougher than anything I would want to fry. After the planting, weeding, and watering, I don’t like to throw away anything I’ve grown unless I must. I decided to use the pods in a stew.

Actually, I decided to use the pods in a stew made from ingredients I had on hand. That turned out to be a lemon, some boneless/skinless chicken breasts, chicken stock, brown rice, and seasonings.

While gumbo may technically be a stew thickened with okra, no one I know would call a dish gumbo unless it began with a roux. This did not. Maybe I should call it Coulda-Been-Gumbo.

Anyway, I began with a 32 oz box of ImagineR Organic Free Range Chicken Broth and 2 quarts of water. Into that, I squeezed one fresh lemon.

I removed the ends of each okra pod and sliced them about 1/8” thick. I added the slices to the stock along with one shishito pepper with the non-stem end removed. Then I chopped a small carrot and threw it in. While this mixture was heating, I sprinkled salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper over the mixture.  

I wanted to add a little more flavor to the broth, so I dug around in the spice cabinet opening jars and smelling spices. I like to do this while standing close enough to the boiling pot that I can smell the spice jar and the broth in the same breath. Then I pick the best combination of aromas.

This time, I chose a blend from Penzeys Spices called Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave Seasoning. The aroma reminds me a little of the chicken bullion cubes my mother used. It’s a blend of salt, black pepper, garlic, lemon peel, and onion. I sprinkled in about a half teaspoon.

Unlike when I test recipes, when I cook like this I rarely measure. That means I can’t tell you precisely how much I added. I can tell you it smelled right after I stirred everything together.

By now, the mixture was boiling. I reduced the heat and allowed it to simmer for 30 minutes. Then I removed the pepper.

Turning the heat back up, I added a cup of parboiled brown rice and 4 thin sliced chicken breasts. I sprinkled the chicken breasts and rice with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. I put on a lid, reduced the heat to medium low, and set a timer for 25 minutes.

Once the timer alerted me, I turned off the heat and allowed the gumbo to sit for about 5 minutes before I spooned some into a bowl. After a little cooling, I was ready to sample.

The flavors were scrumptious and the texture was pleasing. The lemon juice prevented the okra from making the broth slimy. The extra cooking time caused the slices to break apart into tender pieces of green pod and loose seeds. The chicken was moist and tender.

I was pleased enough that I want to try this again. Perhaps next time, I’ll use tilapia instead of chicken. And maybe I’ll add some lemongrass for added citrus zing.

I’m pretty sure the opportunity will present itself soon. Okra grows FAST!

Memory Soup

Welcome to today’s memory soup! Sunday’s Super Bowl made me think of Florida. This morning’s chill made me think of soup. It seems that red conch chowder marries the two. Apparently, this Caribbean dish is popular in Florida as well as the Bahamas. I’ve never eaten it, but I have eaten conch fresh out of the ocean.

Years ago, some friends and I took one of those overweight puddle jumper flights from Belize City to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We took off over the water and slowly climbed with the stall siren blaring for what seemed like a solid five minutes. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a stall horn. I just knew it was an annoying, loud noise that wouldn’t stop. A few years later, during pilot training, I was overcome with a delayed feeling of terror when I recognized the danger we had been in.

Once we settled into our accommodations on the island, we found a guide to take us bonefishing. Bonefish, like redfish, flip their tails into the air and feed off the bottom in the shallows.

They aren’t easy to catch. When you can see the tails, all movement must be slow and quiet until you’re close enough to cast. A single errant throw of the line will scatter them away quickly. But when you hook one, it’s a fun fight until you land it.

After a morning of fishing, our guide pulled the wooden boat up to a pier and we got out. Several hours in the sun had left me thirsty and hungry. About four steps down the pier, we encountered a man using cupped fingers to happily dip ceviche out of a red Solo® cup. “Want some?” he implored.

While the thought of eating uncooked seafood from a cup into which a man is dipping his fingers is something I can’t even stand to think about now, at the time I just wanted to share what was making him so happy! The ceviche was made with conch the man had harvested that day. Soaked in fresh lime juice and seasoned with cilantro, salt, and hot pepper then mixed with tomatoes and cucumber, it was full of flavor and as delicious as this suntanned stranger had described. I’ve loved ceviche ever since.

Living in a landlocked state means saltwater fish and seafood must be flown in for them to be moderately fresh. That means we don’t eat a lot of clam chowder or oyster stuffing. We have to make up the difference with crawfish, trout, bass, and crappe. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the occasional ocean catch. My neighbors have a big pot of fish stew on the stove right now. 

Now that you’ve sampled the memory portion, I guess it’s time for soup. What’s better than classic tomato soup? I like to use Pomi Italian Strained Tomatoes as a base, but there are other options. Dei Fratelli Condensed Tomato Soup is gluten-free comes in a restaurant or large family 50 oz size. Both of these can be used in lasagna, chili, pizza sauce, and marinara when you get tired of tomato soup.

There’s nothing better than homemade chicken stock, but it takes awhile so you have to plan ahead. Sometimes I decide I want chicken soup right now. For those occasions, I keep Imagine® Organic Free Range Chicken Broth in the pantry. I like drinking it from a mug as is, but it’s also a great base for chicken & rice or chicken noodle soup.

Potato soup is warm, filling, and doesn’t require any exotic ingredients. I can usually throw it together with what’s on hand: potatoes, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, butter, and milk or milk substitute…and water. It’s even better if I can scare up some bacon. Sometimes, I like to add cauliflower or corn.

With a pandemic stocked pantry, I have plenty of beans on hand. Black bean is a great option. I typically use dried beans, but you can use can beans as well. Carrot, celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic, broth, bay leaves, cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice are the other items needed.

And there’s always vegetable soup. I’m pretty sure the versions are unlimited. Sometimes I start with chicken stock and leftover veggies. Other times, I opt for fresh veggies in pot likker from greens. On a given day, my preferred version is any combination of vegetables that please me or empty the fridge.

Where are the actual recipes? That’s the great thing about soup. It’s a perfect culinary playground. You don’t need a recipe to make it delicious. You can use your memory and your senses.

If you’re not currently comfortable cooking by feel but want to give it a try, pull out any chicken soup recipe. Fill a soup pot with the recommended amounts of stock and water. Then measure the amount of salt recommended. Sprinkle the salt across the top of the liquid. Get a visual feel for that particular measure. Do the same with the pepper, garlic, and cumin or curry in the recipe (these are only examples). Next time you make soup, you’ll have a visual reference for what you need. Just shake it right out of the container.

Use your sense of smell at the same time. Smell after each addition. As you get comfortable, you’ll recognize that you can smell a difference when you add a bit more salt or garlic. As long as there are no raw ingredients of concern, taste after each stage as well. The more senses you use, the more information you’ll have.

While you’re playing, keep in mind that an addition of cooked chicken that’s already seasoned means you don’t need to add additional salt and pepper to season the chicken. The same goes for left-over vegetables.

I’ve thrown out my share of cooking mistakes, but it’s hard to destroy soup. If you over spice, dilute with additional liquid. And if you have difficulty deciding what to include, memories of soups you’ve previously enjoyed can help guide you. No matter whether you choose flavors from the Caribbean, Asia, the Pacific Northeast or the American South, you’re sure to end up with comforting warmth.

After a year without travel, it would be great to swim in clear Caribbean water and eat fresh conch ceviche. That won’t happen for awhile, so I’ll just have to savor the memories along with a warm cup of soup.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”