Cranberry bars

Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking

Cranberry bars! Have you guys seen To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix? It’s a DELIGHT and I’ve watched it like 6 times. How does this relate to holiday desserts, you may ask? Well, there’s a part in the movie where one character pretends that making cupcakes for a school bake sale is her top priority and two other characters point out that the easiest way to bake for groups is to make something that can be cut into pieces. This is good advice!

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So this year, we’re only making bars that can be baked in one go and cut into pieces. You’re welcome.

But one place where bars fall short is in their appearance. I love a brownie or blondie (recipe coming at you next week, actually), but they’re not the most attractive dessert. Instead, make these simple cranberry bars and you have a holiday showstopper without much fuss.

Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking
Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking

These bars have the same sweet/tart profile of a lemon bar, but in a more festive color. I’ve also simplified the recipe so that you can reuse the same kitchen tools for the crust and the filling. And unlike most cranberry curd or bar recipes, I recommend not straining the cranberries after they’re pureed. It doesn’t make enough difference to justify the extra time, effort, and dishes.

Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking

A couple of notes:

  • I fiddled with the amounts of sugar in the filling because I like the bars a little bit tarter and Ethan likes them a little sweeter. If you like tart, use 3/4 cup. If you like sweet, add the remaining 2 Tbsp.

  • I listed a huge range in the cook time for the tart because it has cooked at wildly varying speeds for me. When I pour the filling directly into the hot shell, it cooked faster, but when my timing was off and I left the crust out to cool while I made the filling, it was a little slower. Also, when I used super fresh cranberries, there was more liquid in the filling and it took longer. Anyway, you get it. Check the tart at about 15 minutes knowing that there is a chance it will take much longer.

Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking

Cranberry bars

Shortbread base
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
10 Tbsp cold butter (1 stick + 2 Tbsp), cut into ½-inch cubes
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
Heaping ¼ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x9 tart pan or a 10x10 brownie pan. Set aside.

Combine all of the shortbread ingredients in a food processor and pulse 15-20 times until the mixture looks like coarse sand.

Dump the mixture into your tart pan or brownie pan. If using a tart pan, start by pressing the mixture into a medium-thin layer up the sides of the pan. Then press the remaining shortbread mixture into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. If using a brownie pan, just press the mixture onto the bottom of the pan and don’t worry about the sides.

Bake in the middle of the oven until blondish-brown, about 17-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep your filling.

 

Filling
10 oz of fresh cranberries (a scant 3 cups; save the rest of the berries for decoration)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar + 2 Tbsp
3 Tbsp flour
3 large eggs  

In a small saucepan, combine the cranberries, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Heat over a medium flame until bubbling and the cranberries can be squished with a spatula without any give, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Wipe out your food processor and puree the cranberries until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Add the sugar and flour and puree for another few seconds until combined and the mixture looks like liquid.

Add the eggs and puree again until combined, about 10 seconds.

Turn the oven temperature down to 300.

Remove the tart shell from the oven (if you haven’t already) and fill with the cranberry mixture until right at the top of the tart. You may have some filling left over.

Bake for 18-34 minutes, until there is no wobble left in the middle when the tart is shaken and the filling feels firm, but springy when lightly touched.

Let cool completely before decorating.


Decoration

2 oz cranberries (whatever is left in the bag)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a small sauce pan, combine 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup granulated sugar and heat over a medium low flame. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves, about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Don’t let the sugar water get too hot; you’re just trying to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.

Add the cranberries and cover well with syrup. Remove from the syrup with a fork or slotted spoon to remove most of the liquid. Add to a bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Roll the berries around to cover with sugar and remove to a plate. Let harden for 20-30 minutes.

When bars are cool, cover with powdered sugar. Add the cranberries in whatever pattern you like.


Yield: 16 medium squares or slices


Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking
Cranberry bars | Me & The Moose. These simple cranberry bars are a showstopper that looks complicated, but is actually easy to bake ahead and cut up for cookie swaps, office holiday parties, and your cookie tray. #cranberrybars #christmasbaking #lemonbars #meandthemoose #holidaydesserts #batchbaking

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

There ought to be a place on the internet where parents can go to brag about the common and mostly harmless, but also spectacularly sudden and disgusting illnesses of childhood. Without going into detail (this is a FOOD blog, after all), instead of sleeping, we spent Saturday night showering, taking baths, doing laundry, and scrubbing carpets. No bueno.

Anyhoo, does your sleep schedule affect your diet? I’ve learned in my old age that getting less sleep leads me to terrible food choices. So obviously, I ate horribly this weekend and am feeling it today. But this salad is getting me back on track.

Delicata Squash is easy to prepare because it doesn’t require peeling. #meandthemoose #delicatasquash #healthycaesar #salad #fallsalad #thanksgivingsalad #thanksgivingrecipes
Delicata Squash is easy to prepare because it doesn’t require peeling. #meandthemoose #delicatasquash #healthycaesar #salad #fallsalad #thanksgivingsalad #thanksgivingrecipes
Delicata Squash is easy to prepare because it doesn’t require peeling. #meandthemoose #delicatasquash #healthycaesar #salad #fallsalad #thanksgivingsalad #thanksgivingrecipes

Delicata squash is one of the stars of this show. It requires less prep since the peel is edible. Just split it in half, scoop out the seeds, and slice. After roasting, the squash is sweet and creamy and the peel gets slightly crunchy, so it’s also a nice textural balance if your littles aren’t into “slimy” foods.

The dressing is my favorite dairy-free Caesar that’s been lightened up by swapping out tahini for the oil. The garlic, anchovies, and lemon taste even brighter and the sesame adds a nutty note that complements the rest of the salad’s flavors.

We also have crispy crunchy gluten-free croutons that are made with a store-bought polenta log. I accidentally discovered that putting a pizza stone in the oven while roasting the polenta SIGNIFICANTLY reduced the cooking time. Huzzah!

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

The spiced, roasted nuts add even more crunch, which pairs nicely with the creaminess of the roasted squash. Toss on a few sweetened, dried cranberries and you have a harvest salad that hits all of the right salty and sweet notes. (A nutty cheese on top is entirely optional.)

I daresay this hearty pescatarian salad would be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving table too.

A couple of notes:

  • I don’t salt the polenta before roasting. Most commercially made polenta has a fair amount of sodium in it already and you’ll be adding salt to the dressing and the squash.

  • While there are multiple steps to this salad, most of them can be completed simultaneously. You can also double the dressing recipe and it will keep well in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

  • Also, unlike dressed lettuce, which wilts quickly, kale only softens slightly and gets less bitter when left to sit with the dressing on, so make this salad ahead (or double the recipe) and eat it throughout the week.

  • A note about the size of this recipe: This recipe yields a main course for two adults and one child with either crusty bread or another protein on the side. If making this to last for the week or for a holiday meal, I would double or triple the recipe. All of its elements last on their own and are easy to toss into other meals.

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad


2 small bundles of Lacinto (Tuscan) kale (about 6 cups)
Tahini Caesar dressing (recipe below)
Roasted almonds (recipe below)
1 log pre-made polenta, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium Delicata squash, halved, seeds scooped out, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Dried cranberries, to taste
Nutty cheese, such as gruyere, gouda, or parmesan, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425.

Tear or chop the kale into small bites.

Make your dressing (see recipe below). Add about 1/2 of the dressing to the torn kale and mix well. Add more to taste or reserve the rest for serving later. Set aside.

Make the roasted almonds (see recipe below). Set aside.

Chop the polenta and toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Spread onto your roasting pan and cook for 20 minutes. Flip and toss the pieces with a spatula, return to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes.

Clean and prepare the Delicata squash. Toss with the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil. Spread on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the squash is soft.

  • I like to add the squash to the same oven as the polenta for the polenta’s last 20 minutes or so.

Add the squash, polenta, almonds, and cranberries to the salad. Feel free to use all or just some of the salad add-ins and reserve the leftovers for something else. Top with a few shavings of nutty cheese, if desired.

Yield: about 2 adult main-course salads and 1 child main-course salad; 4 side salads

Roasted almonds
½ cup raw almonds
½ tsp olive oil
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp rosemary
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper
¼ tsp garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 425. Toss the almonds with olive oil. Mix the spices together and add to the almonds. Mix well. Spread on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes, until you can smell the spices and the nuts are crunchy. Check often to avoid burning.

Tahini Caesar dressing
2 Tbsp Primal Kitchen avocado mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2-3 whole anchovy fillets
2 medium cloves garlic
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup water (added 1 Tbsp at a time)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the mayo, lemon juice, mustard, anchovies, garlic, tahini, and 2 Tbsp of water in a food processor and blend well. Add more water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  • Remember that the anchovies are salty, so taste before you add more!

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

Chai spiced sweet potato and orange oatmeal

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We're back from a very impromptu trip to Disney during which we ate primarily ice cream, sausages, and french fries. It was really nice to worry mostly about having fun for a few days, but our diets definitely took a hit. To reverse course, we're pushing the veggies, even at breakfast. 

This puree is delicious with oatmeal, yogurt, or on its own. Though the chai mixture contains a lot of different spices, the end result is very mild. And yes, I realize that "Chai" actually means tea, but I think Starbucks has conditioned us all to use "Chai" as shorthand for versions of this spice combo.

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I boiled the sweet potatoes here, but feel free to use the microwave, steamer, or oven if that suits you better. I find boiling to be the fastest and easiest method.

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Though it's more work, use whole oranges instead of orange juice since the juice doesn't have nearly as much fiber as the actual fruit.

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Chai spiced sweet potato and orange oatmeal

Chai spice mixture:
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp salt

For the puree:
1 lb sweet potatoes (1 x-large or two small), peeled and cubed
2-3 large oranges, peeled
water (as needed)
1-1½  tsp chai spice mix

Cube potatoes and place in a medium saucepan. Add water until just covered or until the potatoes just start to float.

Bring to a boil over high flame. Once boiling, turn the flame down to medium. You want a strong simmer, but not a boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender, but not falling apart.

Drain and add to the blender. Peel and add oranges and 1 tsp of chai spice mixture. Blend until combined, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed. Hold off on adding water until the oranges are fully broken down because you won't likely need more liquid. If the mixture is too dry, add 1 Tbsp of water at a time until you've reached your desired consistency.

Yield: 2.5-3 cups or 22-25 oz

 

To eat with oatmeal:
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 cup water
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup chai spiced sweet potato and orange puree
2 Tbsp toasted coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp juice-sweetened dried cranberries
1 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)

 Yield: One serving

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