Monday, December 14, 2015

With the holidays right around the corner, that means a busy time for many including the 2 Prickly Pears.  We are going to take a little break during the holiday season but before we do we wanted to wish everyone the best during this time and to share one of our more popular blogs for the holiday season.

From our kitchen to yours we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and Happy New Year.   May 2016 be a joyous year for everyone.

See everyone again in 2016!!!


With Halloween over and the two biggest holidays approaching, we thought we spend a little time talking about the classics of these cooking season.  Let's start with Thanksgiving.  Over the next few weeks we will look into the true history of Thanksgiving and the foods that are so familiar with the traditional turkey dinner.

Fresh Cranberries
Today's post is all about the cranberry.  Can you guess what cranberries have in common with blueberries and concord grapes?  The three are native fruits of North America.  And long before the settlers took over the shores of what we now know as the United States, Natives of the land used cranberries as a food source, medicine and dye.  

It's easy to imagine the first convenient food ever made was a mixture of deer meat and mashed cranberries.  It was called pemmican.  Pemmican kept for long periods of time and was great for long travels.  As for medicine, cranberries were used in poultices that would draw poison from arrow wounds. And the juice of the berry was used to dye blankets, rugs and clothing.  The Delaware Indians of New Jersey used the cranberry as a symbol of peace.

East coast people called the red berries sassamanash.  The Pequot and Leni-Lenape tribes called them ibimi. And the Algonquin tribe of Wisconsin called them atoqua. The versatile berry was introduced to the English settlers in Massachusetts, which helped stave off starvation.  The truth of the matter is that the settlers only survived with the help of the native population.

The English named cranberries after the plant's flower, which resembles the bill of the Sandhill Crane.  Crane-berry morphed into what we recognize today as the cranberry.

Flooded bog
Contrary to popular belief , cranberries do not grow in water.  They do grow in bogs that are made up of mostly of sand and clay.  Once the berries have acquired their family color, the bog is flooded with about 8 - 10 inches of water, making harvesting easier.  But it turns out that this method of harvesting actually adds health benefits to the cranberries.  It is the berries exposure to the sun that develops its nutritional value.  Cranberries are naturally high in antioxidants, as well as vitamins C, A, & E.

Cranberries float as there are chambers in the the berries.

In case you were wondering, Wisconsin is the largest grower of cranberries in the US growing more than half of the berries available, followed by Massachusetts.

More interesting facts about cranberries:
  • Sailors on the days of wooden ships carried cranberries as they were loaded with vitamin C which fought against scurvy.
  • Dennis, Massachusetts was the site of the first cultivation of cranberries in 1816.
  • It takes one ton or more of cranberry vines to plant a bog.
  • Recipes using cranberries date back to the late 1700's.
  • During WWII, American troops required about 1 million pounds of dehydrated cranberries per year.
  • In 1996 200 billion cranberries were harvest, about 40 for every man, woman and child on the planet.  In that same year, growers harvest 4.84 million barrels of fruit.  If the berries were set end to end they would span 1.75 million miles.
  • 440 cranberries make up one pound.
  • It takes 4,400 cranberries to make a gallon of juice, and there are 440,000 cranberries in a 100 lb barrel.
Now that we have a better insight into the make up of cranberries as an industry, let's talk about it's place on the Thanksgiving table. We will talk more about the history of Thanksgiving in coming posts.  For now, sufficed it say, it is safe to speculate that cranberries were cooked up and served at the first Thanksgiving.  And certainly cranberries enjoy a familiar presence on today's table.  But before we get to our recipe, lets have a short talk about canned cranberry sauce.

We are all well aware of the smooth, jello-like cranberry sauce that slides out of the can. There is a large population that is completely offended if the canned sauce is not on the table each year.  We respect the need for tradition.  And if canned cranberry sauce is your personal preference, then we bid you enjoy every bite of it.  If, on the other hand, you want to venture out and make your own cranberry sauce, we have a recipe for you that is easy-breezy and can be made up to a week ahead of time.  And if there are left-overs, feel free to freeze your sauce in an air tight container.

Here is the 2 Prickly Cranberry Pear Sauce.  This is also known as chutney.

Cranberry Pear Sauce (Chutney)
What you need:
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar**
1 pear, peeled and chopped
12 oz bag of of whole cranberries ***
Zest of 1 orange

What you need to do:

In sauce pan combine sugar, water and orange zest.  Heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and pear, bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer chutney until the berries burst and the fruit is soft, approximately 15 minutes.  This will actually depend how chunky you like your chutney. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

** add a bit more if you like your sauce sweeter.
*** if you can't get fresh cranberries, dried berries work just as well.  You'll likely need a bit more water in your recipe.

That's it!!  Easy, tasty, convenient and no can opener.

We know that holiday dinner can be hectic.  We wish yours to be peaceful and filled with good things to serve your family and friends.

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Holiday Cakes

So far we've talked about cookies and breads for the holidays. It's time to turn our attention to cake. Just like cookies and breads, cake has a long history in so many cultures. Where ever there is flour and sugar, you will find one sort of cake or another. Cakes are great for all kinds of holidays and all kinds of celebrations. What's a birthday without birthday cake; am I right? From the simplest cupcake to the most elaborate wedding cake, we love to give cheer while eating our cake.

As in the past few posts, I will give a short run down of just a few cakes from around the world. And then I will embark on trying to make one of my own. Wish me luck because I've never made this particular cake before. We'll get to that shortly.

For now, though, here are a few cakes that look intriguing (keep in mind, this is by no means an exhaustive list):
Pan de Pascua

Pan de Pascua is a cake believed to evolve from the German stollen and the Italian panttone. The name actually means "Easter Bread." But somehow it is a traditional Christmas cake, much like a fruit cake, that is served in Chile. It was brought to the country by German immigrants and made its way into the countries traditions.

Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois is a flaky caked filled with almond filling and served on the 12th day of Christmas. This cake is enjoyed all over Europe and Latin America. The tradition is that a tiny baby doll is placed in the cake and the recipient is honored for the year with good fortune.

Lekach is a honey-sweetened cake. It is significant in the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and represents the hopes of a sweet New Year.

Jamaican Rom Cake

Rum Cake is a tradition in Jamaica. It is rich with rum, cinnamon, nutmeg and lime.

Makowiec is a traditional Polish cake made from a sweet dough and filled with poppy seed paste.

Bolo Rei
Bolo Rei is from Portugal. It is made in the shape of a crown with candied fruit as the jewels which represents the three kings.

Rosco de Reyes

Rosca de Reyes, similar to Bolo Rei, originated in France and is meant to be eaten from Christmas to until the Day of the Kings.

Christmas Cake
Christmas Cake from the United Kingdom, is a type of fruit cake. It is made two months before Christmas so it can soak in all the brandy called for in the recipe.

Having given you a short list of possible cakes to make for you holiday festivities, I come to the cake that I will make.  This particular cake has a history that goes back, way back to the Iron Age of Europe.  It was the original celebration of the Winter Solstice at the end of December.  Before this cake became a cake it was a log from a tree that was decorated with holly and pine cones.  Wine was used to anoint the log.  The celebration was all about the end of the dark and the welcoming of the light as the daylight hours began to increase.  The ashes of the "yule log" were considered valuable, containing medicinal powers to guard against evil.  

Eventually, the Yule log tradition continued, but on a small scale.  What with smaller hearths, large logs could not be used.  No one knows who made the first yule log into a cake, but it is believed that the 1600's ushered in this holiday cake tradition.  French bakers made the yule log popular in the 19th century, calling it buche de Noel.  Today, the yule log is recognized throughout the world as a Christmas dessert.

So today I make a Yule Log in celebration of the coming Winter Solstice and the holiday season.  Let the adventure begin!

Yule Log

What you need:
For the cake:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped in small pieces
5 eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water

Cream Cheese filling
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whipped cream.

What you need to do:

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Prepare an 11" x 17" jelly roll pan by spraying it or generously greasing and flour.  Set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate chips and stir until smooth.

In stand mixer, beat eggs on high for 5 minutes, until frothy.  Add sugar gradually until all combines.  Turn mixer to low and mix in chocolate mixture until blended.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt.  Alternately add flour and water, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Mix only until incorporated.  DO NOT OVER MIX.

Spread batter evenly in pan.  Bake for 13-14 minutes or just until done.  Do not over bake.

Spread out a clean dish towel.  Using a small strainer, cover the towel with powdered sugar. Cover the towel completely.

Remove cake from oven and turn it onto the towel.  Very carefully roll the short end of the cake up in the towel.  Let cool completely.

In medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.  Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.  Fold in whip cream.

Gently unwrap cake.  Spread filling to cover the cake.  Gently roll the cake up again, placing it seam side down on serving plate.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

Before serving, sprinkle cake with powdered sugar and decorate as you like.

With so many options for a lovely and deliciously dessert for your holiday table, I'm sure you can find one that is especially right for you.

Now, go out and make something good.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sandwich... the options are endless!

Deli Sandwich
The world loves it sandwiches. They come in all shapes and sizes.  All kinds of combinations of meats, veggie, fruits, cheeses, condiments and bread types. It would be hard find a restaurant that doesn't have one on the menu.   Some restaurants only have sandwiches on the menu.  Restaurants will boast of their signature sandwich. In fact the 2 Prickly Pears are trying to design their own signature sandwich.  It is almost a badge of honor or right of passage to say you have a treasured sandwich that is your own in the culinary world. And are they handy! You can put them in a lunch, eat them in a restaurant, eat them standing, sitting, laying in bed. They are eaten at all hours of the day from breakfast sandwiches to a midnight snacks. They are can be made hot or cold. Open faced or closed. They are sweat and/or savory. Some with no meat like the ever popular and traditional peanut butter and jelly. Right there you can argue what is the best peanut butter and jelly to use
Classic PBJ Sandwich

So where did they come from?  Where did they get their name?  

The names comes from John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.  He claims he is the inventory of this food combination.  But it is thought to date back to an ancient Jewish sage call Hillel the Elder.   it is said he wrapped meat and bitter herbs between two pieces of matzah (flat, unleavened bread) during Passover.

During the Middle Ages in Europe they used thickly slices stale bread as plates, which they called "trenches".  After the meal the bread that was food soaked was fed to the dogs of peasants.   As time went on local taverns would cut thin slices of beef that was hanging from the rafters and served them between two buttered pieces of bread. 

During the 19th century in Spain and England industrial revolution the sandwich became even more popular. For the working class it was a fast, portable and inexpensive meal to carry to work.  At the same time in the United States was becoming an "elaborate" meal of choice.  In the 20th Century bread had become a staple of the US diet.  It was at that time sandwiches were here to stay.  With in the increase of different cultures moving to the US and people traveling outside the US, the sandwich took on a life of its own.

Chicken Salad Sandwich
Fun fact...
In the United States, a court in Boston, Massachusetts ruled that "sandwich" includes at least two slices of bread.[1] and "under this definition, this court finds that the term 'sandwich' is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans." The issue stemmed from the question of whether a restaurant that sold burritos could move into a shopping centre where another restaurant had a no-compete clause in its lease prohibiting other "sandwich" shops. (

Then there are the classic sandwiches that accompany another dish.  Like the Tomato Soup and Toasted cheese sandwich.

Definition of Sandwich  
  1.  a. Two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them.
       b. A partly split long or round roll containing a filling.
       c. One slice of bread covered with a filling.

       2. Something resembling a sandwich.

tr.v. sand·wiched, sand·wich·ing, sand·wich·es
  1. To insert (one thing) tightly between two other things often of differing character or      quality.
  2. To collide with or crash into (a person, for example) with impacts on opposing sides.
  3.  To make room or time for: sandwiched a vacation between business trips.

Corned Beef - nothing better!
So how do you like your sandwich?  I am a simple sandwich person when I make them for myself.  I always think sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them for me.  But I am on a mission to get a mustard recipe ready for the cookbook so today I made a simple ham, swiss and lettuce with the experimental mustard.  I am almost there with the mustard but not yet.
Ham and Swiss Sandwich

However, my all time favorite sandwich since I have been a child is white bread with butter on with about a 2 inch layer if ice burg lettuce.  I am going to go make one right now!!!

Now go and make yourself a sandwich or for someone you love.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrating the Holidays with Bread

I would be hard pressed to find a country that doesn't grow grain of some kind and inevitable makes bread. From Asia to Africa, from Mexico to Milan, bread is made. It is such a part of our lives and a part of all our cultures, and it is a part of our holiday celebrations. We've talked about bread before and invite you to see that blog as a refresher on how Breaking Bread is so important in every culture.

I like to make bread, but I've never tried one of the recipes I'll be telling you about. It will be an adventure. I hope I can honor the culture of origin.

But before we get to the recipe, let's take a look at some of the bread that can be found from around the world.  You might note that most of these breads contain spices, nuts and/or dried fruit. These additions to the dough add a sweetness, aroma and color that fits with the holiday theme.

  • Challah: This braided Jewish egg bread is eaten at many religious occasions including Hanukkah (Chanukah). It began in ancient times as a piece of dough set aside for the temple priests. Today the word challah is used to refer to the whole loaf. When baked it is glazed with egg yolk and can be topped with sesame seeds.
  • Julekake: This sweet bread is especially popular in Norway and Denmark. Traditionally it is spiced with cardamom filled with mixed candied fruits that give it the colors of the Christmas season. It can be lightly iced. I like it best toasted with butter.
  • Panettone: This Italian Christmas bread was created in Milan. You need a special pan to bake the traditional loaf which is round and tall (sort of like a mushroom) and baked with raisins.
  • Cesnica: A traditional Serbian wheat bread that is baked by women according to many rules on Christmas morning. The word "cest" means share. It is baked with an object inside and the loaf is sent counterclockwise around the Christmas table three times before eating.
  • Krendel: This Russian Christmas bread is shaped like a pretzel and either dusted with sugar or lightly iced. It is filled with fruit like prunes, apples, apricots, etc.
  • Kerststol: Dutch bread with almond paste and dried fruit.
  • Gubana: Originating in Slovenia this traditional bread is shaped like a snail shell and is eaten at various holidays throughout the year. It contains raisins soaked in grappa, pine nuts, grated chocolate, citron and more.
  • Beigli: A Hungarian bread that is rolled up with a filling of walnuts and/ or poppy seeds. When cut it provides a lovely spiral design.
  • Fougasse: This is a flat bread (similar to focaccia) is associated with southern France. It is made with orange water, anise seed, olive oil and can be shaped like a leaf.

There are so many possibilities to choose from when it comes of holiday bread.  I decided to go with our own heritage, so I picked Stollen. The 2 Prickly Pears have a measure of German in our lineage. That along with some other European influences sort of makes us mutts: lovable and loyal. With a heavy European background it seems fitting that I would make a hearty holiday bread to enjoy with family.

Stollen is a traditional bread originated in Dresden, Germany.  It has an oblong shape and is filled with dried fruits, or nuts, or both.  I'm not a fan of dried fruit in baked goods, so I'm doing a walnut Stollen with sugar and cinnamon.  Wish me luck on my new adventure!

What you need:
For the dough:
3 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1/3 cup water (110 degrees)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 - 5 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup golden raisins (optional; I didn't use them this time)

For the filling:
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons water

For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon

Plus 2-3 tablespoons sugar

For the icing:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

What you need to do:

To make the dough:

In small bowl combine yeast and warm water.  Set aside for 5 minutes.

Heat milk in small sauce pan until hot, remove from heat.  Stir in 1/2 cup butter and salt.

Beat 2 eggs and yolks in your stand mixer using whisk attachment.  Gradually add in 2 tablespoons sugar until thick and lemon colored.  Change attachment to paddle and stir in milk mixture and 2 cups of flour until smooth.  Mix in yeast mixture.  Change attachment to dough hook, and add melted butter, lemon peel, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and 2 1/2 cups flour.  Add more flour in small increments if dough is sticky.  (If using raisins, add them now.)  Your dough should be smooth and very soft.  Knead for 5 minutes.  Allow dough to rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour or until double in size.

For the nut filling:

Mix all ingredients, except the water, in a medium sauce pan and heat on low.  Stir until all the sugar is dissolved, around 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and mix in the 4 teaspoons water.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  (you can make this the day before and keep it in the refrigerator.  Bring it to room temperature before you get started the next day.)

Once dough has risen, deflate and divide into two balls.  Cover one ball of dough while working with the other.  Roll out the dough to a 10 x 12 rectangle.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  Spread 1/2 of the nut filling over the dough, leaving about an inch all around.

Mix the wash combining the egg and cream.  Brush the border of your dough with the wash. This will help seal it during baking.  Roll up the dough beginning with the long edge.  Make sure the seam is sealed and the ends are tucked in.  Transfer the Stollen, seam side down, to a lined baking sheet, leaving room for the other roll.  Repeat the process with the second ball of dough.

Heat over to 375 degrees.  Bake Stollen for 15 minutes, then brush with egg wash.  Turn down over to 350 and bake another 10 minutes.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  (You can drape the Stollen with aluminum foil during the last baking if it is getting too brown.)  Remove from oven and cook on rack for 30 minutes.

Drizzle Stollen with icing and let cool completely.  It can be kept in the refrigerator if wrapped tightly.  Serve at room temperature.

My Stollen turned out light and nutty and yummy.  I think my Great Great Grandmothers would approve.  What a delightful holiday bread.

Find a lovely bread that you think makes the holiday and enjoy it with family and friends.

Now, go out and make something good.