Roasted Tamari Almonds

dsc_0920

I love these salty, crunchy protein-rich almonds and the best news is they are a cinch to make. I start with a large bag of whole, unsalted almonds, toss them with tamari soy sauce, add a few dashes of cayenne pepper, and then slowly roast them in an oven.
dsc_0918

Tamari is a refined version of soy sauce known for its smooth and earthy taste. The primary ingredient in soy sauce is soybeans. I realize you probably know this, but have you ever wondered how soy sauce is made?

How Chinese soy sauce is made:
1. Dried soybeans are soaked and cooked in a vat of water.
2. Oven-roasted cracked wheat kernels are then mixed into the vat of cooked soybeans. Yeast is added to start a fermentation process.
3. Salt water is added, the ingredients are mixed together, and the mash is poured into a wooden barrel to ferment for a  year.
5. When sufficiently brewed, the mash is placed in a cloth sack and pressed to yield soy sauce.

Tamari, the Japanese version of soy sauce, is also made from fermented soybeans, but little or no wheat is used. Thus, tamari is typically a gluten-free product. The brown fermented mash in this version is known as miso. The high protein miso, also known as a fermented soybean paste, is pressed, as well, to yield tamari.

How are soybeans grown?
I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to write about how soybeans are grown for a long time, as they are a common sight to see along Kentucky backroads.

In mid-June, I saw a planter truck drill a hole into the ground and drop a seed between the rows of stubble left behind from the just harvested winter wheat. By this I mean, the planter truck followed directly in the tire tracks of the harvester truck; crop harvesting and new-crop planting in the same afternoon. Check out this post if you want to learn the difference between a planter, a combine, a harvester, and a grain truck.
dsc_0925 dsc_0923

A soybean field in early September.
dsc_0114

Soybean pods up close and personal.
dsc_0123

Soybeans, with their golden color, are usually the last crop standing in the fall.
 
dsc_0316

As the number of daylight hours wanes, the combine and grain cart get ready for one last call of duty before the close of the year’s farming season. I’m always a little sad when the growing season is over.
dsc_0305

Dried soybean pods after an October harvest.
dsc_0301

Ingredients for  Tamari Almonds:
dsc_0758
3-pound bag of unsalted whole almonds
1/2 cup Tamari Soy Sauce (look in Asian section of grocery store)
2 dashes of cayenne pepper

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 225º
Mix tamari and cayenne together.
Divide almonds between two large roasting pans.
dsc_0818

Pour half of the tamari and pepper mixture into each pan and toss well to evenly coat almonds.
dsc_0803

Roast almonds in the oven for about two hours. Toss nuts and rotate pans, every thirty minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Typically, I continue to toss the nuts until the almonds, damp with tamari sauce that remains in the pan, are completely dry.
dsc_0967

Other appetizers.
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
The Classic Pimiento Cheese Sandwich

© 2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. No photos or text may be used without written consent.

Cranberry Love

img_6101

What is not to love about the cranberry? The color is gorgeous. The fruit is tart but becomes deliciously sweet when cooked with sugar or honey. The plant is indigenous to North America and has a rich history of use, both culinary and medicinal, that was fully appreciated by both Native Americans and the early colonists. Harvested in October and November, Thanksgiving is the cranberry’s season to shine.

dsc_0645

My love affair with this berry started as I was growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, home to the Ocean Spray cooperative. Although there were no cranberry bogs in Padanaram Village where I grew up, we had only to drive twenty miles east, and there we would find acres of fields of cranberries growing along the road we took to get to Cape Cod. My mother often stopped at the old Ocean Spray Cranberry House Restaurant, on the way back from the Cape, to purchase yummy cranberry pastries.

139047dd4f34c79e1

Since cranberries were harvested in the fall, you can imagine how every November, in anticipation of Thanksgiving, our local Sunday newspapers were filled with cranberry recipes; the cut-out yellowed copies of which remain tucked in my collection of cookbooks that once belonged to my mother and grandmother.

The early New England settlers referred to the cranberry as a crane berry because of the resemblance of the fruit’s pink blossom to the head and bill of the Sandhill Crane. This photo shows that resemblance. Thanks to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery for permission to include it.

images

Flowers, Berries, and Bogs

Cranberry fields are not very exciting to look at in the summer. It is more the idea of what is to come that is exciting.

img_1629

By late summer, if you get up close, you can spy the red berries among the green vines hugging the ground. Okay, this is beautiful.

img_1664

When the bogs are flooded for harvest — now that is a vision! All the ripe fruit floats to the surface of the water, and suddenly there is a sea of red on the horizon.

If you dissect a cranberry, you will see there are four interior chambers where the seeds are located. These chambers hold pockets of air that allow cranberries to float when fields are flooded for harvesting. The air pocket also causes berries to bounce. Good cranberries bounce and float; rotten ones do neither. I learned that on the first day of Home Ec in seventh grade at Dartmouth Middle School where we learned how to make cranberry jelly and biscuits.

dsc_0071

Some cranberries are white. Know that they are still ripe. I read that if you put white berries in the freezer, or cook them, they will turn red as the red pigment, anthocyanin, is released.

img_1664

Horticulturally, cranberry vines are perennial plants; many have been growing for over one hundred years. Cranberry bogs consist of different types of layers of dirt. The first layer is the naturally occurring clay base. It keeps the ground watertight. Next, is a layer of gravel for drainage, followed by a layer of a spongy, acidic soil known as peat, and finally, a top layer of sand.

The Harvest

Originally, cranberries were picked by hand. As you can imagine, it was laborious. In the 1890s wooden scoops with built-in screens were invented and replaced hand-picking. My friend, Kendra May, has a marvelous collection of these harvest implements.

img_3714

Later, in the 1920s, a “walk behind” mechanical harvester was invented which is still used today for the ten percent of cranberries that are “dry harvested.” These perfect cranberries are the ones that end up in cellophane packages for baking.

In 1960 a wet harvesting machine was invented. This machine crawls over flooded fields and acts like an egg-beater to dislodge berries from their vines allowing them to float to the surface where they can be easily corralled and vacuumed up by farmers. Ninety percent of cranberries are harvested in this way. These are the berries that go into making juices, sweetened dried cranberries, and canned sauces.

About a foot of water is piped into the field for this process. Water is also piped in before a winter freeze to protect vines. As warmer weather arrives, growers drain the winter flood, the vines come out of dormancy, and a new growing season begins.

img_1654

These next photos were taken by Minda Bradley whose family farms cranberries in Kingston, MA. They were sent to me by a friend of hers. Thank you, Minda!

img_5120

img_6101

img_1533img_4213

Interestingly, cranberry plants were traded by early colonists in exchange for goods coming in from Europe. On board ships, the berries were eaten to prevent scurvy because of their high vitamin C content. The plants were eventually transplanted to Europe, but the soil conditions were not the same, resulting in a different acid level and flavor. Lingonberry or English moss berry are examples of the European version of these sour berries.

Ocean Spray Cranberries

Grower-owned Ocean Spray is a cooperative of over 700 farming families across North America who grow over 60% of the world’s cranberries. The cooperative was started in the 1930s in Wareham, MA. It is not uncommon to see one of these signs nestled on the side of the road on Cape Cod indicating the grower is part of the Ocean Spray cooperative. Finding one of these signs is akin to finding an old covered bridge in the countryside. Both are highly nostalgic for me.

img_1657

Perhaps now you will have a better understanding of what this message means when you see it on a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries.

 img_3153

I picked a cranberry vine from a field on the Cape simply so I could continue to admire the vine and the berries after I left the fields in September and headed back home.

img_1710

In 1980, there was a shortage of cranberries, and the Ocean Spray cranberry growers consortium changed the amount of cranberries in a bag from one pound to 12 ounces. This is good to know if you are using old recipes that call for “one bag of cranberries.”  Know, too, that a heaping cup of whole berries weighs 4 ounces. Thus, a 12-ounce bag has about 3½ cups of whole berries.

Recipes from Judy’s Chickens that use cranberries as an ingredient:

DSC_0588Grandma’s Cranberry Sauce

 

 

DSC_0224Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

dsc_0481Roasted Fall Veggies: Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

textSorghum Oatmeal Cookies with Ginger and Cranberries

DSC_0421Sorghum, Seeds, Grains, and Cranberries Granola

Special thanks to my New England friends, Donna and Charlie Gibson and Beth Hayes for their help with this story. Thanks to Minda Bradley for the gorgeous harvesting photos.

© 2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. No photos or text may be used without written consent.

Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)

dsc_0909

Recently, I sent each of my sons a text and asked them to name three foods they HAD to have on Thanksgiving Day. All three named their Auntie Martha’s spicy spinach first on their list. I don’t think a recipe can get a better recommendation than that. Meanwhile, my children, young adults that they are, have spoken, and it’s time for me to get this time-honored family recipe on the blog!

img_3072

My sister-in-law, Martha, and her siblings, have been enjoying this side dish for as long as they can remember. My mother-in-law, Cissi to her many grandchildren, gave me the recipe when we first married in 1983. I recently learned from Martha and her twin sister, Terry, that the original version, slightly different from Martha’s, was known by the very elegant name, Spinach Madeleine, and first appeared in the wildly popular Junior League of Baton Rouge cookbook, River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cooking published in 1959. The recipe was created by a woman named Madeline Wright from South Louisiana in 1956. She had the idea to mix a tube of Kraft’s original Jalapeno Cheese into a creamed spinach recipe as she was trying to figure out what to serve her bridge friends for lunch. Her friends loved this spicy spinach side dish. She submitted the recipe in a call for recipes for the newly conceived River Road Recipes cookbook, and it was an instant hit. It has been showing up as an elegant side dish on Southern tables ever since.

The main ingredients are spinach and Velveeta. What exactly is Velveeta?  Velveeta is a processed cheese product that when melted is velvety smooth. Velveeta was invented in 1923 when a cheese company was trying to figure out what to do with the pieces of cheese that broke off of cheese wheels when they were trimmed. The leftover cheese fragments were mixed with whey, the watery part of milk that remains when making cheese curds, and Velveeta was born.

You won’t find Velveeta in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, however. It took me forever to figure that out. It’s in the Dry Cheese section right next to the green box of Grated “Parmesan” Cheese. Both of these are processed cheese products and need a lot of preservatives to be shelf stable.

img_3031

Update 11/30/16: A lot of people emailed, texted and IM’d me the day before Thanksgiving to ask for help on locating the proper variety  of Velveeta. Kroger was out, but most were able to get their Velveeta needs met at Publix. I’m reworking the recipe now, trying out other cheeses to see if I can update this recipe with a more readily accessible cheese product.

In the end, one friend came by and picked up what remained of my stash!

img_3327

Yield: 3½ cups (very easily doubled or tripled)

Ingredients:
dsc_0934

20 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained, save liquor
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup (4 ounces) onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
½ cup spinach liquor saved from drained spinach
1 teaspoon celery salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 ounces Kraft Velveeta Jalapeno Cheese

Mise en Place:
dsc_0863

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350º

Defrost spinach in a sieve over a bowl to collect the liquor that drains out. The liquid should amount to about a half a cup. You’ll want to save all of it. By the way, you could use three pounds of fresh spinach, sautéed in butter for the frozen spinach, and substitute chicken broth for the spinach liquor.

dsc_0875

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onions and sauté for 10 minutes over low heat. I used red onion because that is what I had on hand; white or yellow would be fine. Stir in flour and cook for 2 more minutes.
dsc_0864 dsc_0872

Add milk, the spinach liquor, celery salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire. Stir until blended. Add Velveeta chunks, and mix until melted.
dsc_0878 dsc_0884

Add spinach and mix thoroughly. At this point, you could finish cooking by simmering on the stove for 15 minutes, or put it in a casserole and bake it later in a 350º oven for about 30 minutes.
dsc_0885 dsc_0888

This recipe is easily made ahead of time and can be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd. My mother-in-law always baked it with buttered bread crumbs or crumbled Cheez-Its on top.

dsc_0900

Today, I served the spicy spinach as a hot dip for a meeting and everyone loved it. Most of my guests were surprised to hear it was made with Velveeta!
dsc_0910

P.S. Tomorrow is my two-year blogiversary!!  Please sign up to follow my posts! So grateful to Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner for inspiring me to blog, through their shining example  over at Mason Dixon Knitting!  xoxo

Other Thanksgiving Day Side Dishes We Love
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Cauliflower Three Ways: Roasted, Blanched and Mashed

Favorite Thanksgiving Desserts
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie with a Cheddar Streusel Topping
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

© 2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. No photos or text may be used without written consent.