Friday, November 18, 2011

Cranberry Apple Salad

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's a great time to cook and hang out with your family, you don't have weeks leading up to it with stress and who gets what present... it's just a magical time to sit down with your family, eat some great food, and be thankful. Plus, as a bonus, the next day you can start thinking about putting up decorations for Christmas. Win/Win/Win.

This will be my first Thanksgiving at my in-laws house. I am happy we live close enough to them to have this opportunity, and happy we have family to share this day with... but I am a little hesitant. After all, what are holidays but years and years of traditions you expect to be upheld. And what is another family, but years and years of their own traditions. However, I did ask if I could make this dish.  This is food from "my part of the world," and I am bringing it to wherever I am.  In this case... it's the mid-west.

It's a little tart, it's sweet, and it's made of fruit so we serve it during the meal instead of during dessert (even though there are cookies and whipped cream and something resembling a frosting in there). It is Cranberry Apple Salad, and I have been in charge of making this for the holidays for about 10 years. I wouldn't want a holiday without it.  Where it comes from? I'm not sure.  But I know where it's going (and if it has anything to do with the number of people who ask for this recipe, it's everywhere).  And also in my mouth.

One of the many things I like about this salad is that you only have to use one food processor, and you only have to clean it once. It took me a couple of years to figure out the right order, so follow along!

Step one: drain your pineapple (and keep the juice). Let it drain while you're going about doing the rest of this... it needs to drain for a terrifically long time, so start now.

Alright, step two: crush a box of Nilla Wafers in your food processor until they are a "crumb." Put them aside for later.

Next wash the cranberries, and make sure you've got only good-ones there. (I'm not sure it matters in the long-haul, but I am pretty picky about my cranberries.) Now chop them up (I generally do this in two batches, so they don't get too small or juicy) and put them in a mixing bowl. Repeat with slices of apple.

Combine chopped cranberries, chopped apples, well-drained pineapple, marshmallows and sugar together and let it hang out for a bit in the bowl. Maybe an hour. Maybe overnight.

While you're waiting for that to meld (so you can re-drain it... because nobody likes a soupy salad), combine 2/3 of your crushed Nilla Wafers and a couple of tbs of butter. Press it into the bottom of a glass-looking (or actual glass, whatever) cake pan.

Now, back to the processor, put a package of softened cream cheese and a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar. While the food processor is running, add about 1/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice (feel free to drink the rest). You're looking for a thin-consistancy frosting-like layer. Now add it on top of the crumb base. This is starting to look good.

If your cranberry mixture is looking soupy, feel free to drain it again (this is where I generally start on day-two. Either way, this stuff needs to wait overnight.). Add it on top of the "white" frosting-like layer and spread out evenly.

Now whip some cream (and add some vanilla and powdered sugar), and add it to the top. Top this ALL off with that 1/3 reserved nilla wafers. And now you have got the most delicious and festive dish on any table. Eat it with dinner. Eat it with dessert. Eat it the next morning for breakfast (it is made of fruit...). Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Apple Salad

Crumb Layer:
box of Nilla Wafers
3 tbs melted butter

White Layer:
package of cream cheese (softened)
2 tbs. powdered sugar
1/4 cup pineapple juice

Cranberry Layer:
1 cup crushed pineapple (well-drained - reserve liquid)
2 cups cranberries
3 medium apples (any kind, but preferably firm and red)
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup sugar

Whipped Cream

  • Crush Nilla Wafers and set aside.
  • Process cranberries and apples (in batches to limit "soupyness") until medium/fine chopped and combine with (drained) pineapple, marshmallows and sugar. Set mixture aside.
  • In the same processor, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar and drizzle in pineapple juice until thin frosting-like consistancy.
  • Combine 2/3 of the crushed Nilla Wafers and butter - press into cake pan to form crust.
  • Cover crust with white cream cheese layer.
  • Add cranberry layer to the cake pan (making sure it is well-drained).
  • Refrigerate overnight. (note: you can refrigerate the cranberry layer separately and drain the next day if desired.)
  • Add sweetened whipped cream and remaining cookie crumb to salad and serve.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oatmeal Raisin Neiman Marcus Cookies

Look what I found sitting in my drafts folder, just waiting to be published... COOKIES!

I do not come from "cookie" people. When my mother wants to make a treat, she makes a cake. I have grown-up that way, and can understand why she is so anti-cookies - you have to sit around all day just putting cookies in the oven, taking cookies out of the oven. All day.** That's it. So I don't make cookies very much.

**note: it doesn't actually take all day to switch cookies in and out. But you have got to agree that it feels like it takes all day. Honestly, I just stand by the stove reading a book for an hour...

There are two exceptions to my "no cookie" rule: the cookies that Santa likes (so I must make them or Christmas will not come), and the cookies my husband likes (so I must make them for him and his guys when he goes into the field). These are the cookies my husband likes. And they are exceptional cookies. I wouldn't spend all day putting cookies into the oven and taking them out again if I didn't think they were worth it - and they are worth it. So says me, so says my husband, and so say all the people I give them to (of which there are many, because last time I made these cookies, there were about 85 of them in one batch).

A quick aside: I modified a cookie dough called "Neiman Marcus Cookies" to create this. Apparently this was an Internet scam or something, because that whole story about "I asked Neiman Marcus for their cookie recipe, and they charged my credit card $50,000" is untrue. In fact, until recently, Neiman Marcus didn't even make cookies. There. Rumors dispelled. Moving on.

Making these cookies is a cinch - you don't even need a mixer. Mostly because once I tried using a mixer, and may or may not have burned the motor out. So probably don't use a mixer. (if you have a KitchenAid, and desire, I am sure you could use that. But since I have none, I shall not.)

Step one: take 5 cups of Oatmeal (not instant or fast-cooking) and either pulse a few times in a food processor (like I did with this stylish model almost as old as I am), or crush well with a rolling-pin. If you have a food processor, just pulse it a few times. You're looking for a fine powder.

Step 2: Now cream together the butter and the sugars and the eggs (the wet ingredients. I always find it so interesting that sugar is a wet ingredient...).

Step 3: Dry Team! Add the flour, oatmeal powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda together and stir.  Now add about 3/4 of a 24 oz container of raisins (you could add more, but I promise there are already plenty!) and a toffee-containing chocolate bar of your choosing - pre broken, and add them all together.

I used to use a Symphony bar for this (with almonds and toffee chips), but started looking for a non-almond option when my sister became allergic.

Milka are infinately better.  Not just because of their lack of almonds.  They are just so. much. better.  It's Europe's #1 chocolate bar.  Europe doesn't lie about things like chocolate bars...

Yum.  (and, yes, you can find them where you are.  I found these at a Wal-Mart in nowheresville Kentucky.)

Now roll the dough into balls and place about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet, and cook them. According to the original recipe, it makes 112 cookies. I've always found it makes between 80-90. Either way, it makes a lot of cookies. And trust me when I say... this is not too many. Bake them all.

This cookie is perfect. Chewey without being cakey. Moist without being... greasy? Make them for your friends. Make them for your family. Make them for yourself.  Rated 10/10 by my husband's platoon, and 10/10 by me.

Oatmeal Raisin Neiman Marcus Cookies
375 degrees, 10 minutes per batch.  Makes 80-100 cookies.

5 cups oatmeal - blended until fine
2 cups butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
~18oz raisins
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 8 oz chocolate bar - smashed

Measure oatmeal and crush until it reaches a fine powder.  Set aside.

Cream butter, sugars and eggs together.

Add flour, sale, baking powder and soda to oatmeal and mix.

Combine butter/sugar mixture with flour mixture.  Add chocolate bar and raisins.

Roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake and enjoy my favorite cookie.  It's got that oatmeal raisin goodness with nice hints of chocolate (and a dash of "what is that?" if you use the toffee-included chocolate bar).