Whoosh! There go the holidays

I think that blazing flash of light I just saw was the holiday season whizzing by. December usually runs in fast-forward (now there’s a term today’s tape-free teens probably don’t know), but it seems worse for me this year. A big part of it was having to finish proofs and other materials for my cookbook on buttermilk, which won’t be published until fall of 2012, but nevertheless the publisher needs the stuff now.

I’m finally up for air, and plan to make the most of the remaining time. “Christmas in Connecticut” is snug in my DVR, right next to the Alastair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol.” “Christmas in Connecticut” is my new holiday fave – I love the idea that Barbara Stanwyck’s 1945 version of Martha Stewart doesn’t actually cook any recipes she writes about.

I don’t look quite as va-va-voom as Barbara, but I do bake. When fresh cranberries and oranges abound, this quick bread is my favorite. It’s easy, good for breakfast or snacks, freezes well, and I can easily “non-dairy it” for The Hub.

Cranberry-Orange Nut Bread

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter

Grated rind of 1 orange

Orange juice

1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in the cranberries and pecans.

Put the margarine or butter in a 1-cup glass measure and melt the margarine or butter in the microwave. Add the grated orange rind, then pour in enough orange juice to fill the cup. Add the liquid and the egg to the flour mixture and stir to blend. Don’t overbeat. Pour into a non-stick 8-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Bake 1 hour or until it tests done with a toothpick.

Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove it. Let it cool completely if you want to wrap and freeze it.


Soup and balances

I’m fond of making soup this time of year, maybe as a counterbalance to the rich and sweet goodies that abound. I figure a pot of vegetable-based soup must absorb a goodly number of the calories from Moravian spice cookies or Gorgonzola cheese.

Last night, I made a variation of the mushroom-barley soup recipe in Barbara Kafka’s “Soup: A Way of Life” (Artisan, 1998). It’s below with my changes. But before you think there’s too much healthy eating going on in my house, I paired it with spinach salad with bacon-apple cider dressing. One does need a balanced diet.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1/4 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms

1 cup pearl barley

1/2 cup diced carrot

1/2 cup diced celery

1 tablespoon nondairy margarine or butter

1 small onion, minced

1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, diced

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Pour 1 cup boiling water over the dried mushrooms. Let sit for 15 minutes, then strain and reserve the soaking liquid. In a medium saucepan, bring the barley, carrot, celery, rehydrated mushrooms, chicken broth and 4-5 cups water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

In a medium frying pan, melt the margarine or butter over medium heat. Cook the onion for about 8 minutes or until soft. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes or so, until soft. Put the mixture in a bowl. Pour the mushroom soaking liquid into the pan and bring to a boil, stirring wiht a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Add the liquid along with the onion mixture to the soup. Return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes then stir in the garlic. Simmer covered for 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and black pepper.