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Mansfield Magazine

Can It!

Nov 15, 2013 09:26AM ● By Lisa Drake

A walk through the produce section offers clear indication that the fall holiday season has officially arrived. Winter squash, pumpkins, gourds, chestnuts, pomegranates, figs and cranberries are plentiful, an overflowing cornucopia for the holiday dining table.

These traditional tastes of autumn are often presented in time-honored fashion, favorite recipes throughout the generations. Baked acorn squash topped with brown sugar and drizzled with butter, pumpkin pie served with a generous dollop of whipped cream, grandma’s English figgy pudding and the ubiquitous cranberry sauce, most often plopped out of a can in a jellied cylinder, producing every imaginable reaction — skeptically curious to harshly horrified — around the Thanksgiving table.

For this reason alone, cranberries get a bad rap. If that’s been your only experience with cranberry sauce, then there’s a world of cranberry recipes you’ve been missing. It’s time to look beyond the canned sauce. Now is the best time of the year to share and enjoy the wide variety of foods that
are simply fantastic with cranberries. It’s also the only time of the year to utilize fresh cranberries, simply the best way to get to know and appreciate the real cranberry.

Cranberries are large, firm, deep red berries (generally larger than blueberries and smaller than raspberries) that grow on evergreen shrubs in cool climate bogs, mostly in the Northeast US, the Pacific Northwest, Wisconsin and parts of Canada. (They are also grown in Chile in the southern hemisphere.) Cranberries are ripe and ready for harvest only during the autumn months, so the holiday season is the only time to enjoy these tart, often sour berries while they’re fresh.
The fact that cranberries are an acidic, bitter fruit is why they are almost always combined with sugar or other sweetening ingredients. The added sweetness balances the tartness, allowing diners to enjoy the fantastic flavor and utilize terrific health benefits these bouncy berries provide. 
Cranberries are high in vitamin C and have been known to help boost kidney function, prevent digestive disorders and help to protect against heart disease. While specific results vary, in general, the cranberry is considered to be a great health food.

Cranberries are available year-round in various forms — prepared sauces and jellies, juice cocktail and dried snack fruit (like raisins) — however, these products are highly sweetened and often high in calories. To take full advantage of the fall harvest and the benefits fresh berries offer, stock up now! 

Fresh cranberries are sold pre-packaged in bags (usually 12 ounces) during November and December. They should have a smooth, almost shiny appearance, and when ripe, they will bounce. Yes, it is time for the annual “bouncing of the cranberries.” Actually also known as bounceberries, a firm cranberry bounces, an overripe or spoiled berry does not (which of course should be discarded). It isn’t necessary to play ping-pong with a whole bag of cranberries, but testing one for fun will give a pretty good indication of the ripeness of the entire bag. 
Ripe, fresh berries will keep in the refrigerator during the fall holiday season, however, I never miss the opportunity to grab up a dozen bags during the peak seasonal offering. The best thing about a grocery cart full of fresh cranberries is that they will freeze wonderfully for up to a year. Just throw the bags in the freezer and enjoy recipes that feature fresh cranberries all year long!

Cranberries are probably already utilized in more everyday foods than you can imagine, from breakfast cereals, energy bars and snack mixes, to juice drinks, specialty sauces and cookies. It’s easy to add dried cranberries to favorite recipes, as well. In fact, use dried cranberries in place of raisins for a unique twist. Try adding dried cranberries to a crunchy granola, a bowl of oatmeal, homemade pancakes or favorite muffins for breakfast. Stuff baked apples or pears with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sliced almonds, lemon zest and dried cranberries for a tasty dessert.

Quick breads are delicious with a handful of dried cranberries tossed into the batter. A white chocolate, macadamia nut cookie recipe becomes a holiday treat with dried cranberries thrown in for great taste, texture and color.

For a quick holiday punch, combine a 12-ounce can of lemonade concentrate, one quart cranberry juice cocktail and one liter of ginger ale. Add a fancy ice mold and some maraschino cherries for serving on a festive holiday buffet. There’s lots of ways to use the dried or juiced varieties of this sweet-tart fruit, but what about fresh cranberries?
Here are some great recipe ideas — from breakfast to appetizer to dinner to dessert — to utilize that fully stocked refrigerator and freezer:

Pumpkin -Cranberry Coffee Cake
For an autumn harvest breakfast treat, combine: 
  • 2¼ cups flour, 1½ cups sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ½ teaspoon ground allspice and ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add 1 cup canned pumpkin, ½ cup vegetable oil and 2 lightly beaten eggs.
  • Stir the mixture until it is just combined; do not over-mix.
  • Using a spatula, fold in 2 cups chopped fresh cranberries and ½ cup chopped pistachios.
  • Pour the batter into a lightly vegetable-oil-sprayed Bundt pan and bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Turn the coffee cake out onto a cooling rack, allowing it to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Dust with powdered sugar and slice into twelve servings.

Orange-Cranberry Chutney
Cranberries are great for appetizer dishes. Chutney adds a nice sweet-and-sour flavor for a holiday buffet. Combine:
  •  1 cup fresh cranberries, 2 peeled and chopped Granny Smith apples, 1 teaspoon orange zest, 1 peeled and chopped orange, 1 diced onion, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves and 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg in a stainless steel (or nonstick) saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Serve chutney warm or cold over cream cheese with crackers on the side.
  • Makes about 3 cups.

Cranberry Spread
For a similar appetizer, highlighting the fresh cranberry flavor in the festive holiday spirit. Combine:
  •  ½ cup chopped fresh cranberries, 3 ounces softened cream cheese, 3 tablespoons honey, 1 tablespoon chopped pecans, ½ teaspoon orange zest and 1 tablespoon orange juice in a bowl, mixing well. 
  • Serve this spread on melba toast, toasted pita chips, thinly sliced baguette, cucumber slices, mini rice cakes or crackers.

Cranberry-Chestnut Relish
What says “holiday season” more distinctly than roasted chestnuts? Maybe a few cranberries, too?
  • Place 12 ounces (1 bag) of fresh cranberries and a quartered, but not peeled, tangerine in a food processor, and process for 20 to 30 seconds (until coarsely chopped). Transfer to a medium bowl. Add ½ cup chopped roasted chestnuts (to roast: cut “X” into flat side of each chestnut, place in shallow pan, cover with foil, bake at 450°F for 30 minutes. Cool and carefully peel away outer shells.
  • Chop roasted chestnut meat and ½ cup sugar, stirring thoroughly.
  • Serve with crackers or corn tortilla chips.
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
I’d be inexcusably remiss if I didn’t include my cranberry sauce recipe. Every year without fail, I’m asked how to make this extremely easy, yet forever rewarding, homemade version of the recipe everyone knows in some other pre-processed form.
Don’t buy it canned when it’s this simple to make! (And so much better—even the haters are often pleasantly surprised!) Combine:
  • 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan, heating on medium until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil on high and do not stir for 5 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium, add 12 ounces (1 package) fresh cranberries and simmer, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes, until sauce is thick. Add 2 teaspoons orange zest and ¼ cup orange juice, stirring well. Allow to cool slightly (or chill in refrigerator, if desired). 
  • Serve with a holiday meal. 
  • For a unique twist, add a chopped Granny Smith apple, ½ cup golden raisins, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg when the cranberries are added, cooking for 15 to 20 minutes instead.

Apple-Cranberry Pie
This has been a favorite pie in my household for the last several Thanksgiving dinners; an enhanced version of a delicious apple pie.
  • In a large bowl, combine 7 peeled, cored and sliced medium Granny Smith apples, 2 cups fresh cranberries, ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional), 2 teaspoons orange zest, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg, mixing well.
  • Place a prepared pie shell in a pie plate and pour in the apple/cranberry mixture, heaping as necessary.
  • Dot the top with pieces of 2 tablespoons butter.
  • Cover the filling with a second prepared pie shell, pressing to seal the edges and fluting as desired. Cut a few vent holes in the top and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.
  • Serve warm and enjoy!

A Holiday to Remember

My featured recipe is versatile in its simplicity. Served with chips as an appetizer, or as a spicy complement to a roasted turkeyor baked ham meal, Cranberry Salsa adds a zestful burst of fresh flavor during the holidays or any time of the year.

Cranberry-Mango Salsa
1 cup fresh cranberries, sorted and rinsed
1 fresh jalapeño
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Process for 10 to 15 seconds, until coarsely chopped. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator. Serve with tortilla chips, nachos, sliced turkey or ham.
Makes about 1 cup fresh salsa
*For a sweet tropical twist add 1 whole fresh mango, peeled, seeded and chopped.

Don’t let your holiday dinners be tarnished by a turn of the can opener and a lack of imagination. Toss a handful of dried cranberries over a salad. Spice up a holiday spirit with a cranberry cocktail.
Chop the fresh berries to cook up a compote. If you still can’t stand the sour, string a festoon of popcorn and cranberries instead.
Flourish with a wealth of fresh flavor this fall. Let the bouncing berry lead the way!

Carol Ritchie is the host of “Cookin’ with Carol.” She has taught cooking classes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 25 years.

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