Cranberry Muffins with Orange Zest and Pecans

Yesterday, my sister-in-law, Terry, asked me to post my recipe for cranberry nut muffins. I had completely forgotten about these flavor-packed muffins!

The ingredients include a lovely mix of cranberries, pecans, orange zest, and cinnamon.

An interesting tidbit about cranberries — each cranberry has four interior chambers that hold pockets of air.

The air pockets allow the berries to float, a characteristic farmers use to their advantage when it comes time to harvest.

During the spring and summer, the berries grow in fields called bogs. In the fall, farmers flood the bogs and use a harvesting machine to dislodge the berries that then float to the surface. There is more to the story that can be found here.

In most recipes calling for cranberries, you can use fresh or frozen. I would not use dried cranberries which are sweetened and have lost much of their nutritional value in the process. For this batch of muffins, I used last year’s frozen berries because that is what I had on hand. When using frozen berries, do not defrost them before measuring or chopping. If you see a berry that is shriveled up, discard it.

I used self-rising flour. If you do not have any, substitute with 2 cups of regular flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of fine salt.

Yield: 12 small or 8 large muffins.

Ingredients:


1¼ cup whole cranberries
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup pecan halves
zest from ½ half a medium orange

1 large egg
¾ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups (8½ oz.) self-rising flour, (measured using the spoon and level method)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter, softened and sliced

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375º. Line muffin tin with paper liners or grease each muffin cup.

Place cranberries, ⅓ cup of sugar, pecans, and orange zest in a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are rough-chopped. Be careful not to over-process.

Measure milk in a liquid measuring cup. Add egg and vanilla to the cup. Whisk ingredients together.

Place flour, cinnamon, and ⅓ cup sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk these dry ingredients together. Add butter slices. Using a wire pastry blender, combine ingredients until there are no more large clumps of butter. See photo below for guidance on what the texture should look like.

Gently stir in milk mixture until just blended. Fold in cranberry mixture. For a light and airy muffin, stir as little as possible.

Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to fill the muffin cups. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of sugar over each muffin to crisp up the top when baked. If making large muffins, use a whole teaspoon of sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes on the middle oven rack. Muffins are done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If you would like to brown the tops a little more, move tin to the upper oven rack and bake for 3 more minutes.

Thank you, Terry, for reminding me about these muffins! I’m glad to have the recipe at my fingertips, again.

Check out the Thanksgiving Menu for Tday dinner ideas.

Other Cranberry Recipes:
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Hot Pepper Jelly or Cranberry Brie Bites
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Sautéed Collards (or Swiss Chard), Toasted Pine Nuts and Cranberries
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Sorghum, Oats, and Cranberry Granola
Oats, Sorghum, Ginger and Cranberry Cookies

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Sautéed Collards (or Swiss Chard), Toasted Pine Nuts and Cranberries

New Year’s Day is all about starting over. A clean slate. A fresh start. I’m game for all of it. Since moving South, I’ve learned you can improve your chances of having a healthy and prosperous year by eating three foods on this auspicious day: collard greens, black-eyed peas, and pork. The greens represent the color of money and thus, economic fortune, the peas (lentils, in the Italian tradition) represent coins, and plump pigs represent prosperity. Pigs also root forward with their noses representing progress. Compare that to chickens who walk backwards while scratching the dirt for food. No looking back. No chicken for New Year’s Day. I can get into all of it. I consider these foods to be charms for the easy life. But if I’m the one doing the cooking, I’m going to Italianize them; there will be olive oil and garlic used in the preparation of each of them.

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To prepare black-eyed peas, check out this blog-favorite recipe, Marlin’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad.

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To prepare the pork, try Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin.

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To prepare the leafy greens, try this recipe for collard greens sweetened with dried cranberries or golden raisins, and toasted pine nuts, all of it sautéed in olive oil and garlic.

About the Leafy Greens: Growing and Cooking Collards

Cooking with collards has been a new adventure for me. After seeing how beautifully they grow in the production gardens of The Nashville Food Project (where I frequently volunteer) and after cooking and serving them for years as a side dish for TNFP’s Meal Distribution Partners, I figured it was time to jump in and grow them myself. I’m so glad I did! They are like the Giving Tree of vegetables. Even as I write, on this cold winter morning, my crop of collards, unprotected from the winter elements, continues to happily produce greens. I’ve been picking from this same raised bed of collards since early October.

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Collards are a great crop for the first time gardener to grow, too; they are very forgiving. For eight months of the year, you will be rewarded with a continuous production of hearty greens that are great added to soups, or when used in a sautéed medley with other leafy greens.

Technique Tips

Chiffonading Leafy Greens:
Chiffonade is a cooking technique used to describe a way of cutting leafy greens into thin, pretty ribbons. The technique is mostly used to cut herbs like basil. I’ve adopted it for cutting all leafy greens for sautéing. To chiffonade, stack about five leaves, roll them together, and then cut through the stack. I use scissors for small, tender leaves, like basil and Swiss chard, and a knife for bulky leaves like kale and collards.

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Toasted Pine Nuts
Add a single layer of pine nuts to a pan. Set heat to medium. Stir nuts about every 15 seconds. Cook for about two to three minutes, or until the nuts become fragrant and are lightly browned. When done, immediately remove nuts from pan to stop the cooking process. You can toast sesame seeds in the same way.

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Ingredients:

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1½ pounds collard greens or Swiss chard (once trimmed will equal about 1 pound)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup dried sweetened cranberries or golden raisins
6 cloves garlic (equals about 2 tablespoons, chopped)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup hot water
salt to taste

Mise en Place:

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Wash and dry collard greens. I let them air dry on dishtowels, patting the puddles of water that collect on top with another dish towel.

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Remove the tough central rib from the leaves. To do this, fold the leaves in half and remove the rib with a scissor. Some people just tear the rib out.

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Chiffonade the greens.

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To cook the greens: Heat oil and garlic in a large six-quart sauté pan. Sauté for about one minute. Be careful not to brown the garlic as that could make it taste bitter.

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Add pine nuts, cranberries, and red pepper flakes. Stir.

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Add half the collards. Once they start to soften and shrink, add the rest. Add water and sauté for about 5-8 minutes until the collards are tender and the cranberries become plump.

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Add salt to taste: if the collards taste bland add more salt until the flavors pop.

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This is a side dish that is slightly bitter. We had it last night with lamb and parsley potatoes, and it was a delicious combination.

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When you go to set the table, consider looking in your yard for greenery for a centerpiece. My friend, Mary, said she was so inspired by Lou Ann working her design magic using greenery from my yard (check out Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard ) that she went out in her yard and used greenery to create this quickie, yet elegant centerpiece.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

 

Hot Pepper Jelly or Cranberry Brie Bites

Last night I went to a holiday party for my tennis friends. Everyone was asked to bring an appetizer. I knew my day was going to be packed, but I didn’t fret about what to make because as long as I have fillo shells in the freezer and brie in the fridge, I know I can make something that is going to be as pretty as it is tasty.

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The versatile pre-cooked phyllo dough mini shells are the key to these quick appetizers. In the winter I add a slice of brie, cook until the cheese melts, and add a topping, such as Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney or homemade cranberry sauce. In the summer, I assemble a quick treat by putting a spoonful of chicken salad into each shell and topping it with half a grape.

Last night, at the tennis party, my friend and fabulous cook, Mindy showed up with a very similar appetizer to mine only her brie bites were topped with Oakley’s Spreadalicious Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly and a yummy, lightly salted, toasted pecan. The mix of spicy-sweet pepper jelly, toasted pecans, savory brie, and the crunchy fillo shell kept me coming back for more. I intend to adopt her version.

About Oakley’s Spreadalicious Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly
Before I moved to the South, I had not a clue what hot pepper jelly was. By my first Christmas here, I knew it well; hot pepper jelly poured over a brick of cream cheese and served with a bowl of Wheat Thins was the appetizer du jour back then.

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Today, that spicy-sweet jelly, made from an assortment of sweet and hot peppers, is more likely to be spread over a log of goat cheese and sprinkled with toasted chopped nuts and a few leaves of thyme for color.

The recipe that follows is for the foundation of the brie bite: the fillo shell and melted brie. What you top it with is up to you. The beauty of this recipe is you can experiment with toppings based on what you have on hand.

Ingredients for 30 Brie Bites:
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2 boxes pre-cooked Athens Mini Fillo Shells (15 shells per box)
8 ounces brie cheese

Toppings:
Sweet and hot pepper jelly or cranberry chutney
Toasted pecans, whole or chopped (recipe follows)
Thyme leaves (optional)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line a small roasting pan with parchment paper.

Remove the snowy white rind that covers the wheel of brie. Or, not. The rind is completely edible and whether to leave it or remove it is a personal choice. It adds a mushroomy taste that I’m not crazy about in these tarts, but am fine with when I eat brie unadorned on a cracker. Slice the brie into small square slices that will fit into the fillo shells.

Arrange fillo shells on the lined roasting pan. Place a cheese slice in each shell.
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Bake for 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove pan from oven. dsc_0080
Top brie with a small blob of topping. Place pan back in the oven for a minute to warm the topping. Serve warm.

Mindy likes to toast pecans ahead of time with a bit of melted butter and a touch of seasoned salt mixed with sea salt. Her pecans, prepared this way, are addictive.

Lightly Salted Toasted Pecans

Preheat oven to 300º

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Turn heat off. Add one pound of pecans. Toss. Add one shake of seasoned salt and a sprinkle of sea salt. Toss. Taste and adjust seasoning.

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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread nuts in a single layer. Roast for 25-30 minutes or just until you can smell them in the oven. Addictive, I tell you.

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In Nashville, you can buy Oakley’s Sweet and Hot Pepper Jelly in the Tennessee Products section of Kroger or in many gift shops around town. Out of towners can order it online.

Other crowd-pleasing appetizers:
Roasted Tamari Almonds
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
A Quick and Easy Baked Hummus and Feta Appetizer

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Growing Cranberries in Cape Cod

What is not to love about the cranberry? The color is gorgeous. The fruit is tart but becomes deliciously sweet when cooked with sugar. The plant is indigenous to North America and has a rich history of uses, both culinary and medicinal. Harvested in October and November, Thanksgiving is the cranberry’s time to shine.

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My fascination with cranberries started when I was growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, home to the Ocean Spray cooperative. We had only to drive twenty-five miles east to find acres of cranberry bogs along the highway to the Cape. There, my mother would often stop at the old Ocean Spray Cranberry House to pick up an assortment of cranberry pastries.

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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 a Sandhill Crane. Thanks to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery for the photo.

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Flowers, Berries, and Bogs

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

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By late summer, you can start to see the red berries among the green vines hugging the ground.

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In September and October, the bogs are flooded for harvest — now that is a vision! All the ripe fruit floats to the surface 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 the fields are flooded. The air pocket also causes berries to bounce. Good cranberries bounce and float; rotten ones do neither. I learned that the first day of Home Ec at Dartmouth Middle School where we were taught how to make cranberry jelly and biscuits.

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Some cranberries are white. I read that when you freeze or cook them they turn red as the pigment, anthocyanin, is released.

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Horticulturally, cranberry vines are perennials; some vines have been growing for over one hundred years. Cranberry bogs consist of different layers of soil. The first layer is a 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. In the 1890s wooden scoops with built-in screens were invented and replaced hand-picking. My friend, Kendra, has a marvelous collection of these harvest implements.

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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 are the perfect cranberries, the ones that are packaged for baking.

In 1960 a wet harvesting machine was invented. This machine crawls over the flooded fields and dislodges berries from their vines allowing them to float where they are then corralled and vacuumed by farmers. Ninety percent of cranberries are harvested in this way. These berries are used for juices, dried cranberries, and canned sauces.

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

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These next photos were taken by Minda Bradley whose family farms cranberries in Kingston, MA.

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Cranberry plants were traded by early colonists in exchange for goods from Europe. Sailors ate the berries, high in vitamin C, while crossing the sea to prevent scurvy. 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 cranberries.

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. They are special.

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

I picked a cranberry vine from a field on the Cape so I could admire the gorgeous berries after I left New England.

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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 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

 

 

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Sorghum, 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 harvesting photos.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.