Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pomegranate Walnut Chutney ... The UN-Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce seems to have a unique place on the Thanksgiving table. For some people it's iconic. It must be served directly from the can, on the "cranberry sauce plate" with molded rings from the can proudly displayed. Witness Marisa McClellan's great blog Food in Jars where she reports on her efforts to repackage her homemade cranberry sauce into a re-purposed bean can for the "right look" of her turkey condiment.

Other people change up their cranberry sauce annually. One year cranberry jelly, the next raw cranberry orange relish, maybe this year cranberry jalapeno compote! I guess their thinking is that any dish with so much tradition must have something to recommend it. If only they can find the right recipe...

Other families dutifully buy a bag of cranberries every year and efficiently cook it up with whatever recipe is on the bag. It's then dropped on the buffet in grandma's cut glass side dish and thoroughly ignored by every person in the buffet line, with the exception of the kids table where it is perfect ammunition should Cousin Bobby start any trouble.

And there's always the chance that like Big Mary, you may truly enjoy the tart, sweet and slightly bitter edge cranberries bring to a this typically over rich meal. At the same time, I will pass right on by that "jellied straight out of the can" style that was both traditional and traditionally ignored at my youthful Thanksgiving dinners.

And so I offer you all an option that might just start a new tradition for your holiday buffets. Pomegranate Walnut Chutney! If not for tomorrow's Turkey, then perhaps for your Christmas Ham. And if you have any plans for serving duck breasts over the season, you'll thank me for recommending this as a tasty accompaniment. It keeps well when refrigerated, up to a week or so. I promise it will dazzle any surprise guests served with a humble grocery rotisserie chicken and impress the hell out of the cocktail crowd accompanying a simple chevre.

Have I oversold myself? Perhaps my enthusiasm is getting the better of me. I do not recommend it on Cheerios or scrambled eggs. Though a spoonful or so tossed in a salad .... OK OK OK I'll stop.

Truth be told this is not really a chutney. It's more a relish since it is not cooked. But the flavors and how they work together remind me of a chutney, and so I'll not stand on ceremony.

Pomegranate Walnut Chutney

1 Cup Walnuts
¼ Cup Currants (or small raisins)
2 teaspoons Vinegar
1 Cup Pomegranate Seeds/Arils
4 Large Pitted Prunes, diced small
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon or Lime Juice
¼ Cup Pomegranate Molasses *
¼ Cup Dark Strong Honey (such as Buckwheat or Forest)
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and place in oven. Toast 6 -7 minutes until nuts are lightly toasted and aromatic. Set aside to cool and chop roughly.

In a small sauce pan, combine currants with vinegar and warm over low heat for a few minutes allowing currants to “plump” in the vinegar. Drain and cool.

Combine walnuts, currants and remaining ingredients, season with a little salt and serve.
Maybe made several days ahead and kept refrigerated.

*Pomegranate molasses is reduced syrup of pomegranate juice. It is easily available in specialty or Middle Eastern markets.

Have a wonderful holiday. Find, remember and cherish all you are thankful for. And spread the love thickly.

All recipes and photographs are Copyright 2011 Big Mary’s Kitchen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies (and Gluten Free to boot)

Big Mary has a confession.  I have not always been the most sympathetic chef to guests claiming allergies or other types of food restrictions.  Though I admit to being a born cynic, there's just been too many events where I saw the Kosher clients decimating the caviar station.  Had I been gifted with that proverbial nickel, I'd have a paid off my mortgage from all of the faux allergies that were really just masks for foods a client doesn't enjoy... cilantro, cumin, anchovies, grapefruit, etc...etc...etc...........

But the reality is, there's too many people with real allergies, with life altering consequences, for Big Mary to indulge in said cynicism.  I can't imagine the stress from any Mom who's child could stop breathing from a brush with a walnut.  And I've also known a few friends who describe an unenviable hell after consuming a perfect slice of sourdough.  That got my attention.  Life without baguette?  Say it ain't so!

So, for the last few years, I've been on the lookout for gluten free options for our buddy and Clay Diva, Ellen.  As this year's birthday arrived, her angels aligned, and tossed a recipe across my laptop for Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies.  It was at, a website that usually makes me want to head for the kitchen.  I happily fell for the bait and am excited to report that somewhere between my momentarily motherly instinct and culinary research I discovered my new favorite peanut butter cookie.

I upped the spices a twitch, 'cause that's who I am. But I send major kudos to the creator of this recipe, Judy Haubert's pastry chef friend Lindsay.  I love most that it's a recipe which fits our friend's gluten free requirements, without using any obscure ingredients.  Arrecha! (Bravo!) as the handsome Venezuelan proclaims...
See if it doesn't beat your go-to PB Cookie!

Peanut Butter Cookies (Gluten Free) 
Makes 4 - 5 dozen

16 oz. Jif brand creamy peanut butter*
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground)
¾  teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup (approximately) demerara sugar  
1. Preheat oven to 350° with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two rimmed baking sheets with non stick Silpat mats or parchment paper and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl cream together peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat in eggs, vanilla, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon until thoroughly combined.

2. Place demerara sugar in a small bowl. Form peanut butter mixture into 1-inch balls (approximately a Tablespoon of cookie dough) and roll in demerara sugar, coating lightly. Place balls 2-3 inches apart on prepared baking trays and flatten with the tines of a fork in a perpendicular cross-hatch pattern, if desired.

3. Bake 10-12 minutes (rotating and turning at 6 minutes) until puffed and lightly brown. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes on trays to set before removing.

*The original recipe strongly suggested Jif brand.  Not sure why.  I plan to experiment.  Jif does make a “natural” peanut butter with less sugar that doesn’t separate.