Balsamic Cranberry And Brie Crostinis…

Well, it’s just about 2019 – can you believe it? I can’t believe that I’ve been writing this blog for over 5 years with over 450 posts and am still going strong. It’s been quite a journey for me as I truly was (and to some degree still am) the cook who never could. But over the past five years I’ve learned so much and have become so much more confident in the kitchen – something I never would’ve believed early on.

Don’t get me wrong, I still make mistakes and sometimes my instincts aren’t as good as others. But when I get feedback from readers telling me that what I’m showing in pictures looks hard, I know that there are so many others out there like me who were never mentored in the kitchen and are looking to learn. Because, believe me, most of what I post is very easy.

So I will continue on with this theme, which in my mind is endless – there will always be someone who needs to learn something regarding cooking or baking. And I will continue to learn and share my lessons learned so when you make one of my recipes you can escape some potential pitfalls and be successful right out of the box.

It’s time to post the last recipe of 2018. Some of you may be aware that’s I’ve posted a lot of appetizer recipes this year. That’s because my condo association hosts a happy hour every week during the summer and bi-weekly over the winter and although no one is expected to bring anything, I always feel compelled to do so. And one of our members is a caterer and so my competitive nature kicks into gear to see if I can, at least every once in a while, outshine the professional. And in my mind, this particular recipe does. It looks so festive and is pretty easy to make – the vast majority of the work is the assembly and that certainly isn’t difficult.

So let’s talk Balsamic Cranberry and Brie Crostinis…

Lesson Learned 1 – This appetizer can be served warm or cold: I opted for cold and here’s why – I’ve found that unless you are personally hosting a party hot appetizers can be tricky, especially if they are at their best when they are hot. How to time it to get to another location with the appetizer still warm, the paraphernalia you may need to bring with you to keep it warm, timing how you bake it to ensure the quickest oven to table possible – all of this just seems like too much for me.  Even though you can serve this warm, I decided to make the cranberries ahead of time and baked the baguette closer to the time of the party and the crostinis turned out great.

I also found that when I took the bread out of the oven and placed the cheese on top the cheese slightly adhered to the bread because it was warm. So that worked out well. Nothing wound up falling off the bread because the cheese was secure.

Lesson Learned 2 – Preparing the cranberries: I’ve always cooked cranberries on the stove top but this recipe calls for them to be cooked in the oven. So here’s a couple of tips that will save you a lot of aggravation:

  • Use a lipped baking sheet because the cranberries will let out their juices and you want to keep them in the pan and not all over your oven
  • Line your sheet with parchments paper – the cranberry mixture will be quite sticky and will be a nightmare to clean if you don’t protect the baking sheet
  • Spray the sides of the baking sheet with cooking spray – although you’re using parchment paper juices will run to the sides and stick to the sides and that can be difficult to clean
  • Clean your baking sheet asap – even with using these precautions some of the cranberry mixture will stick and the longer you let it sit the more difficult the clean-up will be

Lesson Learned 3 – Working with brie:  I love brie but it can be a pain in the butt to deal with, especially if you’re not fond of the outer skin and want to remove it. Brie is not easy to slice because it is so soft. Make sure you have a really sharp knife and watch out for your fingers.

You’ll want to cut the brie in small pieces – and for this you’ll have to use your judgment in terms of what that means. I cut the brie in squares and after putting some on the bread I could tell just how much I needed. I wound up making some of my pieces smaller or adding on to some of them. Don’t fret about this. After you top a couple of the pieces of bread you’ll get the feel for it.

I also used my fingers to spread the brie on the bread slices. That way I could push the brie down into the warm slices and spread it out with my fingers. You can also use a knife, but I had a better feel for it with my fingers. If you chose to use the finger method – make sure you have clean hands! I washed them before and once during the process. Your hands can be your best tools in the kitchen but if you use them they must be really clean.

Lesson Learned 4 – The original recipe called for 1 Tablespoon of rosemary: I thought that was way too much (I used dried rosemary since the grocery store did not have any good looking fresh rosemary). I wound up picking bits of rosemary out of the cranberries as I felt it was too overpowering. So I recommend a teaspoon of fresh rosemary chopped very fine, or 1/2 tsp. of dried rosemary, crushed. The rosemary does enhance the flavor of the cranberries – you just don’t want it to overpower the mixture. I would err on the side of caution – you an always add more if you need to but take my word for it, it’s a big pain trying to pick out the pieces of rosemary after the fact.

And the rest is just basic assembly – toast the bread in the oven, put the cheese on the bread, the cranberries on top of the cheese and for some extra flair add a small sprig of fresh thyme on top. This appetizer is delicious. I had people taking it home in doggie bags. So make this for your New Years celebration. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2019!

Balsamic Cranberry And Brie Crostinis...

  • Servings: Approx. 30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter, melted

2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil

1 french baguette, sliced thin

12 ounces fresh cranberries

2 Tbs. good balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. fresh rosemary, diced fine (or 1/2 tsp. dried and crushed fine)

6 ounces triple cream brie cheese

Fresh thyme, cut into small sprigs for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425. Cover a large lipped baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the sides with cooking spray. Set aside. Take another baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cranberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and rosemary. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Transfer the cranberries into a bowl. Clean the baking sheet as soon as possible.

In a small pan, heat the butter and olive oil until the butter is melted. Stir to combine. Slice the bread into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick. Brush the butter/oil on both sides of each slice and place them on the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 6 minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and turn over all of the slices of bread. Put them back in the oven and bake for an additional 4 minutes.

Transfer the slices of bread to a cooling rack. Take a small amount of brie and press it into each slice of bread, spreading the cheese with your fingers until it just about covers the bread. Take a teaspoon full of the cranberry mixture and place it on top of the cheese.

Decorate the tops of each with a small sprig of fresh thyme. Serve.

 

Cranberry Upside Down Cake…

There’s nothing that screams the holidays like cranberries. Did you know that 20% of cranberries grown are consumed over the holidays? The fresh ones are only around this time of year and their bright red color makes you want to burst into a Christmas song. And because I love them so much, I’m always looking for new ways to cook or bake with them. This particular recipe hits the jackpot as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve seen various iterations of upside down cakes but this one, in my estimation, surpasses them all. It is so much fun to take this cake out of the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes, and then turn it over and see this gorgeous burst of holiday color decorating the top of the cake. This cake will stand out on any holiday dessert table. And besides looking fabulous, it tastes fabulous! And it isn’t that difficult to make. You just need to follow a few tips and the cake will turn out perfectly. This is the very first time I made this cake and just look at it – holiday perfection! So let’s talk cranberry upside down cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Grease the bottom and sides of the pan generously: If you don’t do this you’re dead in the water. The cake will never come out clean. Now by generously I don’t mean you need a build up of grease in the pan.  Just make sure your pan (and this recipe calls for one 9 inch round cake pan) is thoroughly greased on the bottom and the sides. And make sure you only use butter to grease the pan, nothing else.

Lesson Learned 2 – Can you make this in an 8 inch round pan: The answer is yes and no. This recipe makes a lot of batter and really calls for a 9 inch pan that is at least two inches high up the sides. Once you put the cranberries in the entire batter will come close to the top if you use it all. I wound up leaving a small amount of batter out as I was afraid the cake would spill over the sides of the pan. I left a little less than 1/2 inch of space along the sides.

I’m glad I did. The picture below shows what the cake looked like right out of the oven. You can see the cake is all the way up to the top of the sides of the pan. Next time I make the cake I may add a few less cranberries (the original recipe called for 12 ounces of cranberries – I did not use that either. I used about 10 ounces of the 12 ounce bag). The key to getting a nice top is making sure the cranberries are evenly spread over the brown sugar and butter base. Piling the cranberries slightly on top of each other also results in a few cranberries rising with the cake and creating some nice color throughout the cake, which I liked.

I think you could use an 8 inch pan but keep in mind you will need less cranberries and you will have more batter left over. Either way, leave yourself a little less than 1/2 inch of space along the sides so your cake does not flow over the sides of the pan.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t let the cake cool in the pan longer than 10 minutes: You want the cake to rest for a short time when it comes out of the oven. But you also want to make sure you can get the cake out of the pan. Remember what you have on the bottom is really sticky. Cool the cake for no longer than 10 minutes. Then take a butter knife and run it all along the sides of the pan. If you do this, your cake will come out easily. Mine did and it looked gorgeous. Let the cake cool in it’s “upside down” form.

If you follow these simple lessons you should have no problem making this cake. And as always I will include sea level and high altitude amounts for the baking powder. I know you will love this one!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake...

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Base:

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

10 ounces of fresh cranberries (you will not use an entire 12 ounce bag)

Cake:

1 3/4 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Very small pinch of ground cloves

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs, room temperature

1 Tbs. orange zest (the zest of a large orange)

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch round cake pan. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt together the butter and brown sugar for the base. Make sure they are mixed well. Pour this mixture into the bottom of the cake pan.

Spread the cranberries evenly over the butter/brown sugar mixture. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

In another bowl beat the butter for the cake until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs in one at a time and mix until combined. Stir in the orange zest.

Mix 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the butter/egg mixture. Once combined beat in 1/2 of the sour cream until combined. Beat in the next third of the dry mixture until combined. Add the remaining half of the sour cream and beat until combined. Add the last third of the dry ingredients and beat until combined. Finally add the milk and beat until combined.

Pour the batter over the cranberries making making sure to leave a little less than 1/2 inch of room from the top of the pan.

Place in preheated oven and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake anywhere from 55 minutes to 70 minutes. (mine took 70 minutes – it will depend on your oven and your altitude). Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife all around the edges of the pan. Place a plate on top of the pan and invert it. Let the inverted cake cool on the plate.

 

 

Scrumptious Cranberry Nut Bread…

It’s that time of year again. I know this sounds silly but I get a little wave of excitement every time I see bags of cranberries in the grocery store for the first time. To me it’s heralding the holiday season, my favorite time of year.

Immediately my thoughts go to making a cranberry bread. It’s tradition, sort of like making Christmas cookies every year. And each year I fiddle with the recipe a little but I think I’ve got it down to something I really like.

I love the tartness of cranberries and when you combine them with orange juice, orange zest, nuts and all the other regular cast of characters you have in a sweet bread loaf that’s simply heaven. So let’s talk cranberry nut bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Process the cranberries in a mini food processor: In my estimation this is the quickest way to get the job done with minimal mess. I pulse the cranberries so that I can get some nice sized chunks. You don’t want to pulverize them, that would defeat the purpose of the bread. The pictures below show how I processed them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use the zest of 1 medium sized orange: I’ve seen different amounts of zest called for in various recipes and I just made it easy and said use the zest of one medium sized orange. That will render a generous table spoon which noticeably adds flavor to the bread. Quit fooling around with measuring spoons on this one. Just use one orange!

Lesson Learned 3 – I adjusted the leavening in my recipe: Again after looking at several recipes I adjusted the leavening (baking powder and soda) for high altitude. I will give you the amounts I used and also the recommended amounts that I saw on various recipes for sea level. As you can see from the pictures my bread turned out great with no cave-in in the middle (which is a result of too much leavening at high altitude). Those of you at sea level – just use the “normal” amounts I listed.

And that’s it. This is one of my all-time Fall classics. I make it every year when cranberries arrive at the grocery store. I hope you enjoy it and please, let me know what you think…

Scrumptious Cranberry Nut Bread...

  • Servings: 1 Loaf
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda (1/4 tsp. high altitude)

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup orange juice

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

Zest of one medium sized orange

1 egg, room temperature, beaten

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Baking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl combine orange juice, oil, zest and egg. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the cranberries and nuts until they are all throughout the batter.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely.

 

 

 

Cranberry Christmas Cake…

I know we still have three weeks until Thanksgiving, but I am already testing some recipes for the holidays. I was intrigued by tIMG_1508his one because it only has 6 ingredients and the most labor intensive part of making it is beating the eggs and sugar for 5-7 minutes. I can handle that. Plus the cake uses one of my all-time favorite holiday ingredients, cranberries. This recipe is perfect for the novice baker who may not have confidence in the kitchen but wants to make a lasting impression with his/her confection creating skills. You can’t fail with this one, trust me!

Recipe Rating: A+ This recipe is so easy to make and so delicious. It reminds me of a cranberry coffee cake. I actually was going to take the entire 9 x 13 pan with me to work, but my husband wouldn’t hear of it. He suggested that I only take such a small portion of it that I decided just to keep the whole cake at home. Needless to say, half of it was gone in the first day and I didn’t have one bite. It must have been those darn Christmas elves raiding the kitchen again!

The consistency of the sugar and eggs...

The consistency of the sugar and eggs…

Lesson Learned 1- Beat the sugar and eggs for 5-7 minutes: Don’t skimp on the time – this step is very important. You will notice that there are no “traditional” leavening agents in the ingredients. In this recipe the eggs act as the leavening agent so it is important to beat them with the sugar for a long time. I actually thought I got the desired consistency at about 6 minutes but I let the mixer run for an additional minute just to make sure. The mixture should actually double in size and form ribbons when you lift the paddle out of it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Weighing the flour: One cup of flour is 125 grams. I have taken to weighing flour in my baking as I’ve found that I use too much when I don’t, even if I aerate it before I scoop it out. If you don’t have a kitchen scale just make sure you at least aerate the flour before you scoop it. Flour can compact when it settles and if you don’t weigh or aerate it you will wind up using far too much resulting in a tough cake. For this recipe I used the high altitude trick of adding two additional tablespoons of flour to the called-for amount. The batter baked perfectly. If you are not at high altitude, don’t add the additional flour.

The Finished Batter

The Finished Batter

Lesson Learned 3 – The batter will be thick: The consistency of the batter will be quite thick making it slightly challenging to spread evenly throughout the 9 x 13 pan. Once you’ve spread it, take the pan over a hard surface (I used my wooden butcher block for this – if you don’t have a wooden surface you should consider using a dishtowel over another hard surface to soften the impact so as not to crack your dish) and lift it up about a half inch (not any more – you don’t want to break the pan) and drop it. Do this a couple of times. This will help the batter settle and even out any areas that you may have missed.

Lesson Learned 4 – Dust the cranberries with a little bit of flour: Even though this cake isn’t very thick, you still want to dust the cranberries with a little bit of flour before putting them in the batter. Doing this helps the berries to distribute evenly in the baking process versus all of them falling to the very bottom. Just take about a tablespoon of flour and put it on top of the cranberries. Then with your hands mix the flour throughout. You will wind up with some flour on the bottom of the bowl. No need to add that into the cake. Just make sure all the cranberries have a light dusting. If you use frozen cranberries you can skip this step. Just don’t thaw them before adding them to the batter.

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In my estimation this is the perfect holiday recipe. Not only does it exude the colors of the season it is so simple to make. You don’t even have to cut up the cranberries. The longest part of the preparation is beating the eggs and sugar. And with little effort you get a delightfully delicious cake. You can certainly make this any time during the year, but for me this one screams Christmas. ‘Tis the season! Enjoy.

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Cranberry Christmas Cake

  • Servings: 24 Small Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 cups of sugar (slightly less for high altitude)

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups (250 grams) of flour (plus 2 Tbs. for high altitude)

1 tsp. vanilla

1 12oz package of fresh cranberries (if using frozen cranberries do not thaw)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. With a mixer beat the eggs and sugar for 5-7 minutes until slightly thickened and light in color. (the mixture should almost double in size). Add the butter and vanilla and mix for another 2 minutes. (It is important to try to get the butter to blend as smoothly as possible. There may be some very small lumps and that is ok but beat out the large ones (this is why it is so important to have the butter completely softened before doing this part of the process).

By hand, stir in the flour until just combined. Add the cranberries and stir until they are dispersed throughout the batter.

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with baking spray. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is lightly browned.  Cool completely before slicing.

Right Out Of The Oven...

Right Out Of The Oven…

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