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DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce (Ridges Optional)


I grew up in a household of “normal” American cuisine: our mac and cheese was boxed, our casserole was tuna, and our cranberry sauce? Our cranberry sauce had ridges running along the side–the mark of the can it came from. Since traveling out in the world, I have of course since been introduced to homemade, gourmet, and small-batch artisan versions of a lot of foods, but some attachments die hard. And sometimes, well, sometimes on balance boxed is just best.

This brings me around to how I decided that DIY canned cranberry sauce would be my “heart healthy” project for Cathy’s annual Thanksgiving round-up. Granted, cranberry sauce is always going to have a bit of sweetener in it to balance the tartness of the berries, but I figured if I could get the high fructose corn syrup and the plain old regular corn syrup out of the equation, we were still making strides toward a product that did the body a little better if not entirely good.

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Sliced

For my recipe, I decided to use fruit juice and honey as my sweeteners. Though research had told me that using white sugar would require no additional pectin to get a good set, by using honey, I also needed to add this step. This finished jelly does differ from the commercial version in that you can definitely detect that honey was used. I like this–the sauce isn’t muddled with extra spices or exotic flavorings, but it is just a little more complex. White sugar would likely get you closer to the commercial taste, however, if that’s what you’re going for.

Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Commercial Variety

Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Commercial variety-check that gel!

Since I had already purchased a can of jellied cranberry sauce for comparison’s sake–for a $1, mind you, so add that into your considerations–I also had the bright idea that I would use the can as my mold, thereby silencing any readers or relatives who just could not deal with a cranberry sauce unmarked by rings along the edge. I thought I was being incredibly clever until I found out a couple of minutes ago that Marisa over at Food in Jars totally did that last year. BPA-free to boot.

What I discovered about my DIY cranberry sauce, however, is that while it is firm enough to be sliced and handled, it doesn’t come close to the commercial jelly in the can. Truly, that product has an almost terrifyingly firm yet not chewy in the mouth consistency. I’m not sure how they manage it! I did get my jelly out of the can without incident, but as a frazzled holiday host, make sure to take a deep breath and steady your hands before you cut and plate your sauce in those perfect circular slices–otherwise it could quickly turn into a fool’s game laced with profanities.

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Process

DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce (Ridges Optional)

12 ounces whole cranberries, washed and picked over, mushy berries removed
3/4 cup water or juice (I used a tart grape juice I had on hand to good effect. I suspect apple or orange would be nice compliments as well.)
3/4 cup honey
Pectin–I used Pomona’s (2 teaspoons calcium water and 2 teaspoons pectin powder)

Put the juice in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and bring to a boil. Add berries and cook, stirring occasionally, just until most of the berries have popped and begun to soften (about five minutes). Remove from heat.

Using a food mill (recommended) or a sieve and the back of a ladle, mash the softened fruit through the strainer leaving the peels behind. Discard the peels and return the strained fruit to a clean pot. Add the calcium water to the fruit.

Stir the pectin powder into the measured honey, mixing well to evenly combine, then add this mixure to the fruit in the pot. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute.

Pour the sauce into the mold of your choice and allow to cool undisturbed until set. Turn out onto the serving dish of your choice just before serving.

Choosy Moms Choose DIY (Peanut Butter Edition)


Why don’t you just buy it?

Many DIY kitchen projects elicit this reaction, especially once the labor investment is revealed. Even if making your own means the removal of various chemicals, colorings, and preservatives, if it takes you five hours to crack out a bag of perfectly shaped and smiling goldfish crackers, is this a practical application of your time?

There are plenty of DIY projects that aren’t quite so involved, of course. Mayo. Salad dressing. Nut butters also fall into this category, the “recipe” being little more than “put ingredients in food processor and turn on.” Disappointed? I thought not. Even so, you may still be wondering: With so many peanut butter options already fighting for space on grocery store shelves, does it even matter if it takes 15 minutes rather than 15 hours to produce? Why…don’t you just buy it? I’m glad you asked.

Safety: The main reason I even thought to post about DIY-ing your own nut butters was due to the recall of yet another batch of contaminated peanut butter. I put so many more complicated condiments in jars here in Wonderland, it seemed silly not to add this no-brainer to the list.

Control: Peanut butter is one thing, but what about Cashew Almond Butter, or Hazelnut Cocoa Butter? When you DIY, you control type, quality, and quantity of the nuts and oils that go into each and every jar. Salt and sweeteners can be added to suit your tastes and nutrition goals, as well. Now things really start to get interesting.

Cost: When I did the math for Serious Eats, the supplies I was using didn’t dramatically result in cost savings until (perversely) the price comparison climbed into the really pure, “the only thing in that jar is peanuts” kind of $5.99, oil on top spread. To get a pure product and not have to try and figure out how to get the oil reincorporated is worth the homemade time investment as far as I’m concerned, though I did get some colorful tips on how to mix things up.

While considering what type of oil to include in my own DIY version, I wanted to find something that wouldn’t come with environmental concerns and yet still produced an excellent taste and texture. In my experience, using a small amount of coconut oil and then immediately transferring the finished product to the refrigerator results in a butter that holds together without getting oily on top or dry on the bottom before I use it up. I like its texture as well, because it spreads smoothly when totally cold, but isn’t runny on the knife.

DIY Simple Peanut Butter

16 ounces roasted unsalted peanuts
1 tablespoon coconut oil (be sure to use refined oil if a hint of coconut flavor would bother you)
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
Honey, agave, or other sweetener to taste (optional)

Place nuts, oil, salt, and sweetener (if using) in the bowl of food processor. Process until nuts break down, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. My food processor likes to fling all the nuts to the sides of the bowl and out of reach of the blades, so I have to invest more time than I’d like scraping them back off until things get going. Using enough nuts to mostly fill up the processor bowl helps alleviate this issue.

DIY Peanut Butter: Processing

Continue to process until peanut butter reaches desired smoothness. Taste and adjust salt and sweetener as needed.

Due to the heat of the processing, the butter should pour easily into a clean container but will achieve a firm yet creamy consistency after chilling. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator to prevent separation. (I like Mason jars for this, of course, and am really loving the plastic storage lids)


This recipe was created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

DIY Garlic Powder (No Vampires Edition)


It was when I last went looking for our shaker of garlic powder that I was finally motivated to clean out the pantry. After rummaging around for a bit, I discovered it well-hidden in obscurity at the very back of the shelf, its label dusty and faded, its contents distressingly clumpy. Truth be told, that garlic powder had been in my husband’s life longer than I had. Tossing it into the waste bin, I had more fear that its sudden absence would inspire vampire infestation than that I’d miss it in the kitchen. Which is to say, I did not expect my life to change one bit.

Clearly, garlic powder is not a spice rack item I think much about. However, though it’s a seasoning that inspires an eyebrow-raising level of animosity in some quarters, I don’t have any snobbery about using it. I had just kind of forgotten about it. It had slipped out of my life along with those batches of Chex Mix and slices of garlic bread toasted under the broiler that had flavored my childhood.

DIY Garlic Powder: peelings

Having just discovered the “dehydrate” setting on my oven, I figured why not try making a batch of my own? I did the math for this week’s Serious Eats column, but if you don’t care much about that part, know that in the end I had a small jar of powerfully attractive powder. It’ll be much easier to remember to use this stuff.

DIY Garlic Powder

This process also works for onions, and I took the opportunity to do a tray of each simultaneously without damaging the flavor of either. Out of one 13-ounce white onion (chopped fine), I was able to produce 1/2 cup of dried flakes, which reduced to 3 tablespoons of onion powder. It’s a very small amount, but it has a very sweet taste–like a fried onion ring.

Be prepared for your house to fill with the strong scent of garlic during the dehydration period.

2 garlic bulbs (about 5 oz.), cloves separated and peeled

DIY Garlic Powder: drying

Slice garlic very thinly and spread out in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Alternatively, you can use drying racks or a parchment-lined baking sheet in your oven (convention setting if you have one) with the door cracked open (I found that an old wine cork works well for this purpose).

Dehydrate at 130°F, stirring and turning slices every few hours until garlic is fully dry. When dehydration is complete, the garlic chips will snap in half rather than bend. This could take nine or more hours, depending on the thickness of your slices and the vagaries of your appliance.

DIY Garlic Powder: grinding

Allow garlic to cool completely and then grind to desired consistency (I use a coffee grinder that I reserve for spices). If you want to make sure that the powder is fairly even and fine, pass the ground garlic through a mesh strainer, catching the larger bits for a second pass through the grinder. Store finished powder in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Makes approximately 2 oz.

The Joy of (Not) Cooking: Kale Pesto


The first days into an August that could variously be described as sticky, gritty, or just plan oppressive (same as it ever was? yes, but still), my kitchen projects are decidedly anti-cooking. In fact, I’m to the point that I will stop to consider whether bending over to lug the food processor out of its storage space is worth the effort, so you can see how things have ground to a kind of halt here in Wonderland.

Still, when your CSA haul means you have acquired not only two heads of lettuce for your nightly no-cook dinner salads but also a bunch of swiss chard and a bunch of kale–all of which needs to fit in the ‘fridge in some manner–steps must be taken.

Lately, this is when kale pesto becomes very attractive. Kale may be the ultimate cliche of the super natural food blogger (seriously, click and read that), but I get exhausted just looking at it. The thought of kale chips has never inspired me to kitchen action (though I will happily eat yours!), and the idea of chewing a week’s worth of kale salads at home will force me to suggest dining out. This kale pesto, however, reduces down neatly to a pint-sized jar, ready to be smeared on pizzas and sandwiches of all kinds, to be tossed with pasta, or to serve as a dip for veggies and pita chips.

Kale Pesto

1 bunch kale, stems removed (about 6 cups–however much I have, I just pack it in)
3/4 cup walnuts (or pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, or a mix of these)
2 garlic cloves
3 T nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup olive oil

Place garlic cloves, nuts, nutritional yeast, and salt in the large bowl of your food processor and pulse to evenly break down nuts. Stop and pack half of the kale into the processor bowl. Drizzle the lemon juice and half of the olive oil over the kale and process until there is room enough to add the rest of the kale and remaining olive oil.

Continue processing until desired texture is achieved. Stop to scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed. Taste and add additional salt or nutritional yeast if desired. Add more oil if you need a looser consistency. I like to leave mine thick so I can spread a deep layer of it on sandwiches and then thin it in portions for use on pasta, etc.

Pack the finished pesto into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, adding a bit of additional olive oil to the top surface of the spread to prevent discoloration if you anticipate significant time between uses.

Back to Basics: Bread and (Macadamia Nut) Butter


Since we spent the majority of our time on Kauai lulled by the sound of the surf and napping in lounge chairs, it’s probably good that we didn’t do a ton of eating in the off hours. Most of our food came from the grocery just down the street or right from the hotel (including a fantastic dinner at the on-site restaurant, Red Salt). I ate lobster tail for the first time–an even bigger surprise, since apparently my jet lagged brain did not read the entry for the ravioli carefully enough and so I didn’t see it coming–but what I really loved was the bread, served with a delicious butter and a small bowl of red salt for sprinkling on top.

Glass Beach on Kauai

Glass Beach on Kauai (mostly black sand and scampering crabs when we visited at dusk, very sparse sea glass)

We did put on real clothes long enough to check out the beer at the Kauai Island Brewery & Grill one night and to grab a pizza at Brick Oven (which gets bonus points in my mind for their fabulous mascot). And for a big road trip one evening, we drove halfway around the island to catch a meal at the vegetarian-friendly Postcards Cafe.

Koa Kea Pool

Photo by @briansacawa

By the time we set out on the 1.5 hour drive, I think I may have built up the restaurant in my mind beyond reasonable expectation. The venue was charming and the staff excellent, but I didn’t find my entrée of tofu, vegetables, and rice in a coconut curry broth to be remarkable in any way. Perhaps that was just a poor selection on my part, but since the GF/V options seemed to be a point of pride for the establishment, I was ready to be dazzled. The trio of artichoke/mushroom/walnut, creamy roasted eggplant, and traditional olive tapenades that we started with was indeed fabulous, however. And there was another sidelight brought to the table that really captured my attention: slices of house-baked bread sharing a basket with a dish of macadamia nut butter. I quizzed the friendly waiter about the makings; this was a souvenir of island life I was intent on taking home with me.

Yes, in the midst of tropical drinks anchored down with fresh pineapple slices and excellently prepared seafood everywhere you looked, leave it to me to get obsessed with the bread and butter. Home again and dreaming of the seashore, I took to baking some rosemary bread just so I could top it with my new favorite spreads.

Macadamia Nut Butter & Red Salt

Macadamia Nut Butter

1 cup macadamia nuts
1 tsp. agave nectar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 scallions, sliced

Place nuts in the bowl of a food processor and let run for a couple of minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Once the nuts resemble a coarse meal, add agave, salt, and scallions, and continue to process until the butter has achieved desired smoothness.

The butter at Postcards is very chunky. If I had reserved another quarter cup of the nuts, I would have hand chopped those and stirred them into the finished butter before packing into a serving bowl. Next time!

Child of Invention: Shake and Pour Pantry Peanut Dressing


There is a comforting romance to tracing your culinary roots back to grandma’s stained cookbooks or memories of mom letting you wear her apron and stir. These bits of nostalgia are stereotypically accented with the recollection of shared kitchen laughter and lessons learned at the elbows of others—food preparation that bonded the family and ended in feasts of Norman Rockwell perfection.

In my case, however, this love affair with formulas and mixtures and experiments began in the garage. My father had set up an old Formica-topped table, behind the cars and next to the lawn mower, where I could spend hours by myself just messing around in my own imaginary kitchen. I made milk by shaking together baby powder and water in a cast-off baby bottle, “reduced” dish detergent by pouring it into a plastic bowl and leaving it out in the sun until it congealed. Once, after I saw a special on PBS, I even took a handful of clay from some craft supplies we had and formed my own wine vat, mashing up grapes from our vines and sealing this mixture inside, burying the whole thing in the ground just as I had seen on TV. The next spring when I unburied the clay container and brought a glass of the reeking fermented liquid to my mother, the color drained from her face at the idea that I might have been drinking it. I was only eight, but still—perhaps they should not let me spend quite so much time alone in the garage.

Polaroids from my 1st grade science fair project. The experimental side of cooking is what attracted me.

I didn’t think much about those days once school and friends and violin lessons took over my focus and “playtime” was a thing of my past. In college I cooked to survive, and as a single working woman in New York, I cooked only on the rare occasion that I was actually in my apartment long enough to eat. Once I married, moved, and established a real home, cooking became a more seriously integrated part of living and my inner mad scientist reawoke. My fridge is now crammed with jars of housemade pickles and chutneys and various condiments. I lug home gallons of whole milk that I turn into yogurt and cheeses, fruit and honey that I ferment into mead. My freezer is packed with flours and yeasts of various sorts; I keep a jar filled with the latest sourdough starter, a life that I labored to bring into this world and yet now keep forgetting to feed.

I love to research but I’m not such a fan of measuring, so my favorite dishes tend to be more memory than recipe-based. In the process, I destroy and I discover. I’m still eight-years old really, just better outfitted this time.


Shake and Pour Pantry Peanut Dressing

Shake and Pour Pantry Peanut Dressing

When it comes to dinner salads, there is a point between a heavy dairy laced dressing and a simple vinaigrette that I often find myself seeking in order to accent a full meal of raw vegetables. More often than not, I’ll end up turning to this spunky peanut butter-based recipe. Though honestly, I feel like the instructions which follow should read along the lines of: “Open refrigerator. Remove several complimentary condiments. Shake together and pour.” Because really that’s what I do. I promise I actually measured the recipe below, but I’m never so careful in real life. I almost always forget at least one ingredient, and sometimes I add others, such as honey or toasted sesame oil. If there’s not enough of something, I just use something else.

As if that wasn’t a slippery enough slope, I also adjust it several times throughout its shelf-life to suit different purposes. Need it thicker for cooked veggies or as a dumpling dipping sauce? Spoon in more peanut butter and shake. Need it thinner again to cover another round of salads or to kick up some quinoa? Taste and add more liquid and adjust heat–usually a bit of soy sauce and a squeeze of mustard will do it.

2-3 T peanut butter (processed or natural, chunky or smooth)
4 T tamari (I use reduced sodium)
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
1/2 tsp tuong ot toi (vietnamese chili garlic paste)

Measure all ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until well combined. Taste and adjust balance to suit your tastes. Refrigerate until needed.