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Posts published in “Vegetables and Sides”

Classic Spiced Cranberry Sauce

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The season for holiday eating starts and lasts in my home well into January, since my birthday happens to fall on January 6th, just after the Christmas and New Year holiday stretch and on the day celebrated by some Christians around the globe as Three Kings Day. One of my favorite things about going grocery shopping at this time is how easy it is to find fresh cranberries. It wouldn't be the holidays in my house without cranberry sauce, which I have made every year for Thanksgiving since I was a kid.

In its fresh, not dried and sugar-coated, form, the cranberry is a controversial fruit: some love it, some hate it. I'm definitely on Team Cranberry and growing up, it was a contest each year between my mom and I to see how many bags of cranberries we could make for our sauce, which we did on Thanksgiving day. One year, we made six or seven bags worth of sauce, which we gave to family members in plastic containers along with festive tins of homemade cookies for their holiday celebrations.

And call me weird, but I like canned jelled cranberry sauce, too. I have mashed it up with some water, orange juice and fresh or frozen whole cranberries to make a "shortcut" cranberry sauce in the past, although I believe there is no substitute for homemade sauce from scratch.

I happen to think the cranberry is underrated. A lot of people don't like them because although they are round, like blueberries, they are mouth-puckeringly tart. Blueberries start off small and tart, ripening and getting sweeter as they mature. Not a cranberry, which is why I think of them as the blueberry's sassier cousin. Sadly, I guess that is why any cranberry dessert, cranberry juice, or cranberry sauce I have ever come across has been either spiked with a lot of other berry flavors, usually from raspberries, to up their sweetness (but sometimes detracting from rather than complementing the cranberries) or laden with a ton of sugar.

Caprese salad: The best way to say farewell to summer produce

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There's something to be said about having the right tools to get a job done. I think this goes for just about anything in life, even food.

When you have nice ingredients or tools, cooking is more of a joy. It could mean a splurge on a quality olive oil or an aged balsamic vinegar, a luxury like truffles or Kobe/Wagyu beef (for meat eaters - maybe not for me ;) ), or a nice quality knife or cutting block to work with as you prepare meals.

Sometimes, it doesn't have to be expensive at all: buying produce in season, for example, when it's abundant. You're already off to a good start of making something good when you're working with fresh food that's in-season. It speaks for itself. You can do so little to it and it's still delicious.

As ready as I am for the season to change as I sit here on my porch, on the cusp of my favorite time of the year — with cool wind blowing through the windows, anticipating the turning colors of the leaves that will start any time now — I'll always take time to savor the last of the wonderful summer produce that I've grown and harvested or purchased locally at markets.

And one ingredient I always miss the most as the season turns is the tomato.

Elotes (Mexican Street Corn)

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Updated 11/23/20 to include a variation on this recipe for when corn is not in season—making it a perfect side-dish for any season! Click here to see recipe variation at the end of this post.

This is not a sponsored post or endorsement made in coordination with or paid by any of the brands mentioned here—only offering a few suggestions based on things my family and I have tried and enjoyed.

Elotes, otherwise known as Mexican street corn, is a hot food trend right now for good reason: it's really, really good.

The topping is a perfect, creamy addition to fresh, sweet, in-season corn that gets sprinkled generously with Mexican-style seasoning blend and and cotija cheese.

It's very easy to make your own spice blend but you can also use one that's pre-made, if you don't have the time, such as from McCormick or tajin, which is chili and lime flavored.

Cotija is a firm cheese that typically comes wrapped in a small wheel and can be easily crumbled, similar to feta but much milder in flavor. If you can't find this in a store near you, substituting a shredded Mexican-style cheese blend or cheddar cheese blend works. Definitely try the cotija, if you have that option!

The recipe makes enough topping for about 6-8 medium ears of corn. You can always cut the corn in half, too, to double the number of portions—this is a nice idea for a buffet when you have multiple side dishes that people can choose from.

Basic Italian Dressing

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I'm willing to bet that many of us have made an Italian dressing from a packaged seasoning mix. It's a staple in many American grocery stores and a convenience food, no doubt.

Add the powder dressing mix to oil and vinegar, and in some cases shake it up in a glass bottle that comes with the seasoning mix, and you get a yellow dressing that's flecked with various red, black and green herb and pepper bits.

Sounding familiar? Bringing back some memories of either loving (or loathing) salad in years past?

I thought so... and I know I've personally poured it over plenty bowls of green salads made with romaine or Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and sometimes black olives growing up.

Pantry Raid: Tex-Mex Casserole

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It was a snowy week here in the Northeast and I'm not a cold weather-loving person. Looking at the snowfall is all well and good, but I prefer to stay inside and do that. It's not that I'm necessarily scared about driving in bad weather—been there, done that—but everything that goes with said weather adds up to be a royal pain.

Cleaning off the car and walking on ice both suck...

Letting the car windows defrost for what feels like an eternity before it is possible to see clearly to drive anywhere is annoying...

And don't get me started on what it feels like to be in wet clothes after getting caught in the snow or trudging through feet of it after it's drifted across the driveway.

Ugh, ugh, and ugh.

As far as I'm concerned, on an icky day nothing beats staying toasty in the house, crafting or playing board games with plenty of time for cooking or baking in between breaks. When nobody has to venture out to get anything for dinner, thanks to leftovers or a well-stocked pantry and freezer, it's even better.

This is a vegetarian main dish that includes pantry-staples like salsa, tomatoes, and beans, and takes advantage of the oven—which helps to warm up the house on a cold day, too. Feel free to add chicken or cooked ground meat to the vegetable mixture, if you want added protein, and season to a heat level of your liking. As a happy compromise when I'm cooking for most of my friends and family, I sautee jalapeños (seeds and ribs included) with the rest of the vegetables and serve more fresh ones served alongside as an option, since there are different heat preferences ranging from no heat at all to spicy as possible (with myself preferring something towards the upper end of the heat spectrum.)