The world’s best cranberry sauce

You might think I’m overly confident, but facts are facts; I make the world’s best cranberry sauce and yes I do have many people who will back that up. I’ve received many of my most enthusiastic comments from people who’ve always hated cranberry sauce in the past, but found themselves loving mine. It’s not too sweet and not too tart. It doesn’t have weird thing floating in it or a weird gelatinous texture and it highlights the flavor of fresh cranberries.

My cranberry sauce recipe is not only my best, it’s also my oldest. When I was a kid, it was my job to make the cranberry sauce every Thanksgiving. We always used the basic recipe on the back of the bag of cranberries which consisted of cranberries, water and sugar. That recipe is actually quite tasty, but as my love of cooking grew I started experimenting more. About 10 years ago I finally perfected the recipe and I’m very proud of it.

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Alli’s Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • Zest of 2 large oranges
  • 2 12oz bags cranberries
  • 2 large oranges, supremed then roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup Grande Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
  • Large pinch of kosher salt

In a large Dutch oven combine water, sugar, cinnamon sticks and orange zest and stir to dissolve sugar. Set over medium high heat. Bring to a boil.

Stir in remaining ingredients and bring back to a boil.

Reduce heat and allow to gently boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cool completely then refrigrate several hours, preferably overnight

Cranberry sauce can be made several days in advance as sugar acts as a perservative.

Serves 10-12

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10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

Today I’m thankful for experiences that I’ve had living in various cities.

It should come as no surprise to you that New York is my favorite place in the world, but New York is not my adventure as it is for many people. I grew up in the suburbs, but growing up all of my grandparents lived in Brooklyn, my dad worked (and still works) in midtown. Weekends were often filled with trips to the city to go to Broadway shows or museums and even school trips often took us in to the city. So while I wasn’t raised a city girl, New York City still very much felt like my home.

As much as I’ve always loved New York City and as much as I knew I’d end up back here some day, I also knew that I would regret it if I never experienced anything different. I went to college in Providence, RI and fell madly in love with that city. I lived and worked therefor a couple of years after college as well and without the safety net of school, I really felt like I made that city my own. After I graduated college, I spent 6 months living in Copenhagen, Denmark and it became my second home. It was amazing to take a flying leap out of my comfort zone and in to a new culture. At some point after my second stint in Providence, I became a bit restless and ready to move on, but I wasn’t quite ready to come home yet so, on a whim, I decided to move to Boston where I met a group of amazing friends who remain some of the closest people in my life.

I am so thankful that I’ve been able to experience life in different cities and I would urge anyone else to do the same. Even if you love where you live, if you ever have the opportunity to spend even a few months living somewhere else I say go do it!

S is for… Slovenia; Soup for the sleep deprived

Pozdravljeni

Flag of Slovenia

It’s been acrazy few weeks for me between work, holiday planning, volunteering and about a million and a half other things. I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks exhausted. I was really craving food that was simple and comforting so Slovenian mushroom soup, Gobova Juha, seemed to fit the bill.

Apparently Slovenian’s are crazy for mushrooms. Who knew? My original plan was to also make Slovenian bread dumplings because they sounded heavenly, but between my exhaustion and acknowledging that with Thanksgiving coming up I should probably keep it light, I stuck with just the soup.

Gobova Juha
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion; diced
  • 2 cloves garlic; crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1lb meaty mushrooms; cut in to chunks
  • 2 medium potatoes; peeled and cubed
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 medium potatoes; cubed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup Riesling or similar white wine

    Ready for our bath!

Melt butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until they just begin to soften about 3 minute.
Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
Stir in mushrooms, spices, potatoes and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are nearly cooked through.
Stir in wine and bring back up to a boil. Allow soup to gently boil for an additional 10 minutes.
Serves 4

Boiling away

FINAL VERDICT: B
I will definitely be making this soup again. Next time I make it, when I’m less concerned with authenticity, I’ll probably experiment with spices, but this was just a really nice, easy everyday soup. Most of the recipes I found suggsted serving this with a dollop of sour cream on top. I’m sure that would be amazing since it’s a commonly known fact that sour cream makes everything better, but the dollops of sour cream didn’t exactly fit with the whole eating light before Thanksgiving plan.
This is a grat vgetarian recipe to have around and could easily be made vegan by replacing the butter with something vegan friendly. I’m not well schooledin gluten substitutions, but I’m also guessing it wouldn’t be too hard to find a replacement for the flour to make this soup gluten free.

I feel so naked without my nice dollop of sour cream, but I’m still yummy!

Dober tek!

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 5

Today I’m thankful that I live in a city where I have access to so many amazing foods.

New York is probably the best place in the world when it comes to the diversity of food you can get here. Having people from all over the world all living in one city means that they bring their foods with them. The number ethnic restaurants you can find here is unblievable and while it’s often hard to me to experiment with new cuisines, it still makes my foodie heart sing to know that I live in a city that’s collectively excited to try new foods.

Living in a city that is so richly diverse also makes experimenting a pleasure. When I’m trying a new recipe I rarely worry that I won’t be able to find the ingredients I need. Of course you can’t get everything in New York, but I think it’s safe to say that you can get most things here and I am very thankful for that!

Halloween and Thanks

Yup, I’m still trying to find food things to write about as excuses to post so that I can keep of with my 10 Days of Thanks. To be fair I had intended to post about Halloween, but that post is another thing Hurricane Sandy washed away.

I took a bus up to Salem, Ma (if there’s a better place to be on Halloween I don’t know it), to visit my good friends and spend Halloween in their brand new home with lots of friends and food and beer! The party was great, but unfortunately it was a whirlwind trip since I had to leave literally 24 from the time I’d left NYC (nope, nit even 24 hours from the time I got there, 24 hours from when I left!) to beat the storm.

This Halloween party, which I attended as a 1980’s female rapper a la Salt and Pepa, also marked the first time that I’ve remade one of my 26 Dish project recipes. When I’m completely done with the project (can you believe I’m up to S!) I plan to incorporate my favorites in to my recipe cannon, but haven’t had time to remake any of my favorites yet. With Halloween coming though, it seemed like a perfect time to make Bolo de Cenoura com Cobertura de Chocolate, Brazilian Carrot Cake. The cake is a lovely shade of pale orange and the chocolate glaze appears almost black. Black + Orange = Halloween.

The cake was as delicious as the first time I made it. You can see the corner of it in this picture of the adorable table that Heather set.

How was your Halloween?

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Ten Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4

Today I am thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had to travel!

It’s no wonder that I love to travel since I was raised by parents who get back from one trip only to immediately start planning the next. While travel certainly is a luxury, for me it’s a need rather than a want. Travelling is good for my soul.

My travels (and my time living aboard) have given me memories, adventures, photographs, knowledge and friends. Travelling has helped me to be open and adaptable and given me pieces of knowledge that you just can’t learn from a book and I would not give those experiences up for the world. Now where should I go on my next trip…

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou

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Hurricane Night Food

It’s late and I just realized that if I don’t blog today there’s no way I’ll get in my Ten Days of Thanksgiving so I’m posting a picture what I ate on the night of the storm so that I had an excuse to blog.

A nice comforting bowl of polenta with meat sauce.

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Today I’m thankful for social media. There are A LOT of bad things about social media and trust me I could right a novel about that, but today I’m thankful for what’s right about it. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I saw quite clearly how powerful a tool social media can be. After the storm people were sad and scared, they needed a community and they needed a quick way to check on friends and neighbors so they took to Facebook. One person who’d been able to get back to a hard hit area would check on friends and neighbors and property and then report back to all those Facebook friends, then those friends would post to their own pages and another set of people could see updates and so on and so on. Entire communities displaced by the storm found each other and offered each other words of support.

Facebook and Twitter and blogs also helped us to let the world know what was going on here. Most amazingly though, and entire movement of volunteers and donations was started and being maintained using social media. With the power of a few tweets, Occupy Sandy can let us know where volunteers are most needed or what supplies they’re in urgent need of and their followers step up to the plate and deliver.

So thank you social media, you’ve got many many problems, but often times you are simply awesome.

R is for… Romania; Better late than never

Alo

Romanian Flag

A couple of weeks ago I cooked a Romanian recipe. I figured I’d blog about it within a few days, but then we had that hurricane that you’ve heard me talk so much about and I kind of shifted my focus. This week I’m trying to get Back to Basics (a Christina Aguilera reference because I worship her like the Goddess she is and I’m so freaking excited that her new album came out today).

One of the guests at the United Noshes dinner I attended a few weeks ago had spent time living in Romania and gave me one major piece of advice; they eat a ton of polenta. Well that was music to this carb loving girls years! I had been thinking about making a soup, but I really wanted to gorge myself on enjoy some polenta (mămăligă in Romanian) so I chose to make Varza Cu Carne de Porc, a pork and cabbage dish.

Polenta and veggies and pork, oh my!

Varza Cu Carne de Porc

  • A couple of tablespoons olive oil
  • 1.5lbs pork shoulder; cubed
  • 1 onion; thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic; crushed
  • 1 green bell pepper; thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium cabbage; shredded
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons caraway
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1lb sauerkraut
  • 1 cup water

Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Remove pork from pot and set aside.

Add onions and garlic and cook until onions just begin to soften, approximately 3-5 minutes.

Add pepper and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage just begins to soften, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and all spices. Add pork back to pot, stirring to coat.

Add sauerkraut and water. Lower heat. Cover pot with lid and simmer for 35 minutes until pork is tender.

Serve over polenta.

Serves 4-6

Ready to go.

 FINAL VERDICT: B

This was a really pleasant dish and would be especially well suited to a cold, rainy day as it’s definitely hearty comfort food. It’s also always great to add to the list of one pot dishes so there’s less cleanup later.

I love the way caraway and cabbage taste together. The two flavors are natural partners, much like Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton dueting on the song, Just a Fool from her new album available today (yup I went there again). I also really liked the play of the fresh cabbage and the sauerkraut. The fresh cabbage retains just a bit of its coolness and crunch which cut through the tang of the nice soft sauerkraut. The only thing I’d do differently if I made this again is to double the spices.

Dinner!

poftă bună

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It’s Day #2 in my Ten Days of Thanksgiving inspired by Lisa.

On Sunday I spent all day at one of the Hurricane Sandy Relief hubs of Occupy Sandy. Yes, Occupy Sandy was started by Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but even people who disagree with OWS are commending them for their hurricane efforts and they have become the main relief organization in the city. If you call most local churches, synagogues, non-profits or community groups asking how you can volunteer they’re sending you to Occupy Sandy. During the brief new volunteer orientation you’re given, they do explain to you the principles OWS was founded on, but they also say, “It’s OK if you don’t agree with us, we’re just happy to have you hear volunteering for communities in need.”

My friends and I came to The Church of St Luke and St. Matthew at 520 Clinton St in Brooklyn ready to do whatever needed to be done including going out to the actual disaster sites. What we saw when we arrived was stunning. The church had been turned in to a massive base of operations. There was a communication center set up upstairs to field calls and emails and to communicate with those out in the field.

Downstairs were the kitchens where hot meals were being prepared and lunch bags with sandwiches and snacks were being packed. When Occupy Sandy began, the day after the hurricane  they were preparing 5,000 bagged lunches; they’re now up to 25,000 bagged lunches a day. The chapel on the main floor was home base for driver dispatch and donation drop off and pick up and though we had several jobs that day that’s where we spent most of our time.

If you ever need your faith in humanity renewed go spend some time at one of these hubs and witness the goodness of people. There were people there of all ages, races and economic circumstances. If you came with a laptop they needed your help up in communications. You’ve got a car, great they’ll send you out in the field; kitchen experience, head downstairs and have at it. If you show up they will find you a way to help.

One of the sweetest things I saw was the huge number of parents who came with their little ones. There were two main projects for kids. The really little ones were given crayons and paper to make cards for people affected by the storm. The slightly older ones were put to work making sandwiches and packing lunches.

Last time I posted that I was thankful for all of the amazing people around the country who were doing all they could to help us out. Today I am grateful for my own community, right here. I’m thankful that people can put aside politics and any other disagreements and just help. I have always believed that New York and New Jersey are filled with amazing people who will always be there for a neighbor in need and Sunday’s experience just hammered that home. So thank you to my neighbors, I am awed and humbled by all that you’re doing.

If you are able to please send items like cleaning supplies, first aid, adult diapers, flashlights, batteries, blankets and baby needs to:

Church of St. Luke and Matthew
520 Clinton Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Thank You

In case you couldn’t tell I was pretty angry last time I posted. Well this post is now long overdue.

I am a bleeding heart do-gooder, the friend that everyone goes to when they’re looking for places to donate, ways to volunteer or organizations to support. As such my email and Facebook feed are filled to the brim with requests from various organizations for my help and after a disaster they explode. Before, during and after the hurricane I received incredible messages of concern and support from friends all over the country and the world, but my email and Facebook feed were strangely quiet. I was pissed. I have been consistently impressed with the response to other tragedies, but now when my friends and family, my city and my home state needed help I couldn’t seem to find any.

I began my last blog post by wondering if perhaps the national media wasn’t doing a good enough job of reporting what was going on here. It was the only explanation a cockeyed optimist like myself could come up with. Well, guess what… I was right.

From what I’ve heard it took a few days for the gravity of the situation to trickle out of the area. Once the rest of the world heard though, they stepped up in a big way. Utility crews, policemen, fire fighters all made their way from out of state to help us.

On Sunday I went out to Staten Island to volunteer and saw the devastation first hand. It was gut wrenching and something I’m not likely to forget, but I also saw incredible acts of kindness out there. Runners who’d come for the NYC Marathon came to Staten Island, where the race was to have begun, after it had been announced that the race would be canceled. They donned their running gear and set out to volunteer and help Staten Islanders in need. I even had a celebrity chef sighting out there! Renowned pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres came out to Staten Island on a cold day to give out free hot chocolate.

I blogged about my experience in Staten Island for work and I just don’t have it in me right now to do it again, but I’ll tell you this; the words I heard more than any others were, “Thank you.” My fellow volunteers and I would sometimes happen upon a block where volunteers had already been through and so the supplies we were handing out weren’t needed. Still every single person we met (literally every one) took the time to thank us and it was humbling. I didn’t feel like I was doing all that much, but it was clear that just seeing people there who cared meant so much to these people who’d lost everything.

In the past few days I’ve also seen the internet explode with information about fundraisers going on for hurricane relief in other parts of the country so here is another heartfelt thank you to:

I am sure that I’ve missed many many others so please let me know if you hear of anything in your own communities. Also, tune in to NBC Nightly News tonight where they’ll be highlighting some of the efforts around the country to help us here in NY/NJ.

My friend Lisa writes Ten Days of Thanksgiving every year over at her blog. In the 10 days (ok 10 posts) leading up to Thanksgiving she writes about something that she is thankful for in her life and she encourages others to participate if the project speaks to them. I’m going to try to participate this year and I’m starting today. I am incredibly thankful for the amazing kindness of people all over this country who are helping my home heal. I have no better way of saying this; hurricanes are really bad, but people are really really good.

Thank you!

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Photos from Staten Island

Crickets

Tell me that news stations in the rest of the country, actually the rest of the world, are just not reporting on the aftermath of the Hurricane Sandy. Tell me that and I swear I’ll feel better because I just can’t believe that people outside of my corner of the world could’ve watched what’s happening here and remained silent.

Looks like a bombed out city after WWII right?
Well it’s Breezy Point, Queens post-Sandy.
(Photo by Mark Lennihan, AP via USA Today)

I’m a pretty plugged in gal. I’ve got Facebook and Twitter accounts, I read blogs, I keep up with things! Time after time again when tragedies strike I see those networking tools fill up with messages of encouragement, calls for donations and suggestions on how to help. It’s what I love most about social media. Yet right now New York and New Jersey are in a bad bad way and all I hear from the rest of the country is crickets.

My local Facebook friends, many of who grew up in The Rockaways and on the Jersey Shore, are doing an amazing job of getting their stories out there and self organizing to help victims, but the rest of the country seems to think it’s not their problem. Well that’s if they’re thinking about us at all.

Ortley Beach, NJ
(Photo by Andrew Mills via The Star-Ledger)

In case you hadn’t heard people lost their homes and every single thing they own. Entire neighborhoods have been obliterated. Some people are lucky to still have homes, but haven’t had power for 5 days which means no hot showers, fridges full of food going bad and no heat as the temperatures dip in to the 30’s. A mother in Staten Island lost her 2 and 4 year old sons when they were literally swept out of her arms by a crushing wave. Their bodies were found days later and more victim’s bodies are being found as the cleanup continues.

Hoboken, NJ
(Richard Perry/The New York Times)

Yeah things are really f’ing bad here. We need help and we need to spread the word outside of the affected areas. I am one of those annoying people who believes that most people are basically good and human beings yearn to help each other in times of crisis so please prove me right. If you have a Facebook account, Twitter account, a blog or any other social media tool start talking about what’s going on here in New York and New Jersey and encourage everyone you know to make a donation. Every little bit helps.

NBC News has a great link that you can share which lists organizations helping with the relief effort. Please open your hearts and your wallets so that the sounds of crickets I hear are quickly replaced with the sound of hammers as homes and lives are rebuilt.

Staten Island, NY
(Photo by John Makely via NBC News)

And to those of who’ve already donated or have been paying attention/spreading the word: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS!