In my kitchen, it's Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation time, when friends and family stop by to decorate beautiful sugar cookies for distribution to shelters and food pantries around Rhode Island. The first cookies are sitting on the drying rack, waiting to be wrapped. While we're finishing another day of decorating, please enjoy this updated post, and a great seasonal recipe, from The Perfect Pantry archives.
In the house where I grew up, prunes were the dried fruit of choice.
Nobody liked the taste, but prunes were, quite literally, the magic bullet that kept all of us, well, regular. To this day, if I close my eyes, I can picture the bag of prunes always in the cupboard, and the Sunsweet prune juice, with its yellow label, always in the refrigerator.
To be honest, if it weren't for my love of Silver Palate chicken marbella, still one of my favorite party dishes, I'd probably never have prunes in the house. [Update: my new chicken and prune tagine is running a close second to the beloved marbella.]
Drying offers two advantages to cooks: first, we can access these fruits out of season; second, drying concentrates the flavor and natural sugars in the fruit. (Ocean Spray markets dried cranberries as "craisins", because the tart berries become sweet-tart, like raisins, when dried.) Since high concentrations of sugar ward off bacteria, dried fruit can last up to a year without refrigeration.
Sulfur (or sulphur) dioxide is sometimes added to fruit to improve its shelf life and color. If you're allergic to sulfites, you can find unsulfured dried fruit at health food stores. In a pinch, try boiling treated dried fruit for a minute or so, then draining off the liquid, to mitigate the strength of the sulfur.
Turkey meatloaf with fig gravy
Adapted from a Franklin Café recipe reprinted in the Boston Globe, January 2006. Serves 6.
Vegetable oil or canola spray for the pan
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
2 lbs ground turkey
2 scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly spray a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
In a large skillet, heat the oil. When it is hot, cook the onion and salt over low heat, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until the onion softens. Let the mixture cool.
In a large bowl, combine the onion and all remaining ingredients. Mix lightly, until just combined, with your impeccably clean finger tips. Press mixture into the pan. Set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 55 minutes or until it reaches 165°F on a meat thermometer.
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups apple cider
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb dried Turkish figs, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add onion and cover the pan. Cook for 8 minutes or until the onion softens. Remove the lid. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 35-45 minutes or until the figs are very soft and the mixture has reduced by half.
Slice the meatloaf thickly and serve with the fig gravy.
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