‘Tis the Season for Comfort Foods

The fall season delivers the bounty of the harvest, the return of warm spices, and the satisfaction of richly flavored comfort foods.

I love the tastes of fall. The season delivers the bounty of the fall harvest, the return of warm spices, and the satisfaction of richly flavored comfort foods.

Starting with Halloween and continuing until the New Year rings in, ‘tis the season to be prepared for festive gatherings. Whether you are invited to intimate dinner parties or lavish family spreads, you can be ready to contribute to all of them with a cluster of easily made-ahead or quickly assembled additions that fall into my newly-coined category of KISSSS… Keep it Sweet, Spicy, Salty, and Savory.

You don’t have to give up your annual holiday cookie baking or candy making. Those are delightful activities to share with friends, families, and children throughout the season.

But assembling a cluster of special holiday treats to grace an appetizer table for either impromptu or planned events can be easy to do by yourself without a lot of fuss. Try these recipes for Spiced Nuts, Brandied Fruit, Pickled Grapes, and Candied Cranberries and share these “holiday KISSSS-es” with everybody you love!

SPICED NUTS
Learn this basic approach to quickly prepared spiced nuts, then experiment with different spice mixes.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. unsalted mixed nuts (such as pecans, macadamias, walnuts, unblanched almonds, and cashews)
  • ¼ C. shortening—melted butter, melted coconut oil, or olive oil
  • ¼ C. sweetener—brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup, or honey

Instructions

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and have a baking pan ready to use. (Line it with parchment or aluminum foil for easy clean-up.)
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the shortening of your choice (melted coconut oil, butter, or olive oil) with the sweetener (brown sugar, sugar, honey, or maple syrup) and whichever spice mixture you are using.  (See below for suggested partnering.)
  • Add nuts to the bowl and toss well to coat.
  • Lay spice-coated nuts in an even layer on baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing once halfway through the cooking process.
  • Serve warm or store in an air-tight container for up to seven days.
  • For gifting, pack in small jars or plastic bags tied with colorful ribbon or yarn.

1 lb. of nuts should give you four 4-oz. servings – a good size for gifting.

Spice Mix Suggestions:

Traditional:  1 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, 1/8 tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. ground cloves. ½ tsp. salt (butter and brown sugar)

Orange and spice:  ¼ C. fresh orange juice, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ground red pepper, 1/4 tsp. mace (butter or coconut oil and white sugar)

Rosemary:  3 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary, 1 ½ tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. fresh black pepper, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (olive oil and dark brown or white sugar)

Indian:  1 Tbs. garam masala,  1 tsp. cinnamon,  1 tsp. ground cardamom,  1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cayenne (coconut oil and brown sugar)

Moroccan:  2 tsp. Moroccan spice mix, 2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. coriander, ½ tsp. smoked paprika (butter or coconut oil, brown sugar or honey)

 

BRANDIED FRUIT
This is Amanda Hesser’s take on her mother’s alcohol-soaked fruit. Her mother used gin, but Hesser suggests brandy or other spirit of your choosing. She comments: The recipe is mindlessly simple—layer your favorite dried fruits with some spices, cover with booze.” She points out that you may need to replenish the gin or brandy after a day or two, as the fruit soaks up the alcohol. And the fruit is best consumed within a few weeks, before the fruit’s sugars begin turning the booze to syrup. She suggests passing it alongside a cheese course, or spooning it over ice cream or cake (with some of the macerating liquid!).

Ingredients

  • 1 C. dried figs
  • 1 C. plump prunes
  • 1 C. dried apricots
  • 1/2 C. dried cherries
  • 1/2 C. raisins
  • 2 tsp. raw sugar
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 8 thin slices ginger
  • 8 long strips clementine or other orange peel
  • 2 C. brandy or gin

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, combine the dried fruit.
  • To a lidded 1-quart glass jar, add 1/4 of the fruit. Add 1/4 of the sugar, star anise, ginger, and clementine peel. Repeat three more times. Pour over enough brandy to just cover the fruit. Seal the jar with a lid. Let sit for a week before eating.
  • For gifting, divide the fruit into small jars. Remember to label them and include your name!

Makes: about 1 quart

 

TARRAGON PICKLED GRAPES
One of my treasured cookbooks is Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty. Published in 1986, it is still one of the best resources for unusual and delicious preserved foods. It remains available from a variety of online sources. If you like using a “real” cookbook, this is one to have.

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ C. firm seedless grapes—red, black, green—choose which you like best
  • 8 sprigs fresh tarragon
  • 1 ½ C. white vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. fine salt

Instructions

  • Rinse grapes well, dry with a clean towel, and destem.
  • Jars and lids should be very clean and dry.
  • In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Place one tarragon sprig into bottom of jar and add half of grapes. Tuck in the second tarragon sprig and fill with grapes 1/2″ to 3/4″ from top of jar.
  • Fill with hot pickling solution to cover grapes plus a little more; grapes should be floating in the solution.
  • Grapes are ready in two days and can be refrigerated for two weeks.

Makes one quart. Divide into smaller batches and give as gifts.

 

SUGARED CRANBERRIES
It wouldn’t be the holiday season without cranberries. These are so easy and so pretty you will want to make them often and use them countless ways, from garnishes to snacks.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 C. water
  • 3/4 C. cane sugar, divided
  • 1 C. fresh cranberries

Instructions

  • In a small sauce-pot, whisk water and 1/2 C. sugar to combine. Bring just to a simmer and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the cranberries so that they are coated evenly with the sugar syrup. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
  • Strain, reserving the syrup*. Separate the cranberries and place on a piece of parchment paper on a wire cooling rack. Allow to dry for one hour.
  • Place the remaining sugar on a plate and transfer the cranberries to the plate, rolling the cranberries in the sugar to coat. They will be less sticky as they get coated.
  • Place the cranberries in a lidded container with a little bowl of rice. The rice helps keep the cranberries fresh by absorbing any moisture in the air. They should stay fresh for two days, if they last that long! If you notice the cranberries “weeping,” freshen them up by tossing them with sugar again.

Double or triple the recipe as needed.

*Reserve the sugar syrup for cocktails or other uses.

 

In the beginning, there was food! Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and she can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.

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