Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nuts and chocolate

What is it about Thanksgiving and pies? Pumpkin, apple, sweet potato and pecan pies share the spotlight with the cranberry sauce and turkey.

I suppose pies became a regular menu item for the big day because they're easy to make in advance. I know I always make my pumpkin pie on the night before Thanksgiving because that leaves ones less thing to do on a very busy day.

I usually make just one kind of pie for the relatively small gathering I cook for, and it's always pumpkin. And, I'll tell you a secret about my husband and me. We don't eat our pumpkin pie after our big Thanksgiving dinner, we either have it for breakfast or lunch on Thanksgiving Day, when we aren't stuffed with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes!

Many of you find a large spread of desserts at the Thanksgiving table, and if you've been asked to prepare a pie, maybe you'd like to take something new this year.

Last year I ran across a recipe for a mixed nut pie. It sounded so good, but I never got around to making it.

Whenever I find a new recipe to try, I either tear it from the pages of a magazine, make a photocopy of it or print it from a Web site. Then it goes into a three-ring binder where I either promptly forget it or it nags me until I try it. I remembered this nut pie all year, and every time I saw it when flipping through my binder, I thought about trying it.

Last week, I pulled out the recipe again and studied it. I also read similar recipes on the Internet, trying to decide if I really wanted to make it. The recipe is very similar to pecan pie, with a corn syrup and sugar base. I don't especially like pecan pie, I reasoned, so why would I want to use a cup of canned mixed nuts for a pie I wouldn't like?

So instead of making the pie I had craved for a year, I turned to an old reliable recipe for Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie -- my version of Derby Pie. This pie is a favorite dessert at my house and is so easy to assemble. I always have the ingredients on hand and often make it at the spur of the moment to treat my family.

I knew it would be just as delicious with a cup of mixed nuts added in, and it was. My family enjoyed this twist on a favorite recipe. I liked the different textures offered with peanuts, almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts. I left the cashews and peanuts whole but chopped the larger nuts.

This pie is especially good straight from the oven. But if that's not possible, put individual slices in the microwave for a few seconds to warm up the chocolate chips.

This was definitely a good change in a familiar recipe, perfect for a special occasion, but the original with pecans only is also hard to beat!

Nutty Chocolate Chip Pie
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup mixed nuts (I purchased a can that was labeled "lightly salted")*
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pie shell, unbaked
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter and let cool slightly.

Chop larger, harder nuts, such as Brazil nuts and almonds, into bite-size pieces. I left peanuts, cashews and pecans whole.

In a bowl, combine sugars and flour. Mix in eggs, then cooled butter. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips and vanilla extract. Stir until combined.

Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

*When I make this with chopped pecans only, I use 3/4 cup.

Season for cranberries

If you're like me, you're already thinking ahead to the annual Thanksgiving feast. The big day is just two weeks away, so those of us who are cooking had better be deciding on side dishes and pies and how to stuff the turkey.

My menu doesn't change much from year to year; my family isn't keen on change. But I have added a few new recipes from season to season and hope to continue to be flexible with my holiday meals.

My husband and I are the only two cranberry eaters at our house, and we both look forward to the congealed cranberry dish made with Jello, whole berry cranberry sauce and pecans that I make each year. The recipe is one my mother made often, not only for Thanksgiving but also whenever she made chicken casseroles. It's easy to make, and I love it not only with the main meal at Thanksgiving but the next day with my turkey sandwich.

That being said, I also love making relishes with fresh cranberries. I've made a few fresh relishes over the years and enjoy the novelty of cooking with the berries, which pop as they simmer in a saucepan.

Last week, I did some experimenting and made a relish with fresh cranberries, a tart apple and walnuts. It smelled so good as it cooked.

When I purchased the cranberries at my local grocery store, I noticed the bulk nuts were already on display, so I bought enough walnuts for this relish. I cracked those while the relish cooked and later mixed them into the cranberries along with the apple. I loved the way the apple chunks went from vivid white to a pretty shade of pink as I mixed the ingredients.

I let the relish cool until dinnertime, then served it alongside a pasta dish. It wasn't the side dish I would have chosen for a tomato-based pasta dish, but I was pleasantly surprised how good the two dishes were together. My husband couldn't get enough of this tart relish. He ate a bowlful and requested more. The same thing happened with the leftovers the next night.

This really is a delicious relish, especially if you like tart dishes. The different textures of the nuts, apples and cranberries are pleasing to the palate. And if this relish was good with a pasta dish, I can only imagine how good it will stack up with turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and dressing!

I found this recipe on the Web site for the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. The only change I made was to use apple juice instead of cranberry-apple juice because that's what I had in the refrigerator.

This dish can be made in less than 30 minutes on Thanksgiving Day or just as easily the day before and stored in the refrigerator.

Cranberry, Apple and Walnut Relish
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cranberry-apple juice (I used apple juice)
  • 1 pound (4 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 4 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples (about 1 pound)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Combine sugar, juice and cranberries in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until cranberries pop and mixture thickens.

Remove from heat. Stir in apples and walnuts. Spoon into bowl and cool. Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Yields 4 cups.

Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association

Helen's Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 (14 oz. can) whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 (3 oz.) package cherry Jello
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup pecans, cut up
  • Orange cut in bite-size pieces (optional)
Mix Jello and hot water. When Jello is dissolved, mix in cold water, cranberry sauce, nuts and orange. Chill. Stir while chilling to keep nuts from rising to the top.

Helen Boykin