A berry-happy-holiday: How to work cranberries into every course

It wasn't a throwdown so much as a hopeful suggestion.

A few weeks ago, my son, who lives the carefree life of a 20-something in New York City, forwarded me this little gem: website Buzzfeed's guide on how to incorporate bourbon into 100 percent of your Thanksgiving meal.

As if quaffing a shot or two to settle nerves while you prepare what for many is the most important meal of the year isn't enough.

"You've got some tough competition this year, Mom," Tom quipped, knowing full well that (1) we like to keep holiday food pretty traditional here in the McKay household, (2) we don't typically require alcohol to keep the peace around the table, and (3) even if we did, I cannot stand the taste of any brown liqueur. Ever since a baaad experience with Southern Comfort, I've been more of a beer kind of girl.

But his email got me thinking.

With so many great new cookbooks and cooking blogs at the ready, I'll bet I could work another quintessential holiday ingredient -- fresh cranberries -- into every course for this all-time favorite American dinner. I could begin with a festive cocktail to put everyone into a good mood, then work in a few the ruby-colored orbs into appetizers and side dishes. Rounding the meal out would be a sweet berry-topped dessert to jolt my sleepy, over-stuffed guests back to life in time for us to go to the movies.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: Delicious as they may be, sliced turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing aren't the most visually exciting dishes to pile high on a holiday dinner plate. Why not add add a bright splash of red to that tasty mound of browns and whites?

Yet here's the rub. Not everyone loves these tart little berries, which are cultivated mainly in Massachusetts by Ocean Spray, as well as in Oregon, Wisconsin and Washington.

Lots of folks, in fact, (my daughters included) detest them, despite the fact they're good for you. A terrific source of vitamin C, America's original "superfruit" packs just about 50 calories to a cup and also provides much-needed fiber to the diet.

But, oh. What to do about that sharp, pungent taste?

As cranberry lovers already know, and converts are about to find out, the fruit doesn't work its magic just in jellied sauces, muffins and bread. Cranberries also pack flavor into spicy-sweet chutney, add tang and color to a dish of green vegetables, and when tossed with a little sugar or honey to cut the tartness, provide a gorgeous and delicious topping for custards, cakes, ice cream and other sweet desserts.

Plus, no one gets drunk.

So what are you waiting for?

Available now through the end of December, fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for two months or frozen for up to a year. (One 12-ounce bag yields about 3 cups of cranberries.) So even if you don't want to go whole hog like I am, and serve them every which way but loose on Thanksgiving, stock up on a few bags while they're in abundant supply so you can try the following recipes between now and New Year's Day.

Fresh Cranberry Cosmo

Fresh, colorful and delicious! A guaranteed hit to get the party started.

1 ounce vodka

21/2 ounces Cranberry Granita (recipe follows)

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Place all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake until the granita melts completely. Pour into a martini glass and serve immediately.

Makes 1 cocktail.

-- Alton Brown, via Foodnetwork.com

Ginger Garlic Cranberry Chutney over Baked Brie

Ooey, gooey and just plain good. A sweet and tangy chutney pairs perfectly with the creamy, buttery brie.

16-ounce wheel of brie

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup honey

1⅓ cups cranberries, fresh or frozen

4 teaspoons cider vinegar

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon garlic, chopped

Preheat oven for 350 degrees. Place brie on a baking sheet lined with foil.

In a saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, until chutney begins to thicken. Remove from heat and cool.

Spread chutney on top of brie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Serve with crackers or French bread.

Serves 8 to 10.

-- Goldenblossomhoney.com

Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

This side dish pops with color and flavor.

2 pounds brussels sprouts

2 heaping cups cranberries, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup finely minced shallot

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Black pepper

Put a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, trim and halve or quarter sprouts (unless they are tiny). Add them to water when it boils and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mostly tender. Drain them thoroughly in colander, shaking them dry. (Sprouts can be cooked up to several days ahead and refrigerated airtight or frozen in a heavy zip-style plastic bag. Defrost before using.)

Place cranberries in a large skillet and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, then stir in shallot and olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes, or until cranberries begin to pop.

Add drained sprouts, plus the vinegar, sugar, maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and toss to combine. Reduce heat to low and use tongs to arrange as many of the sprouts as your patience permits cut side down in the cranberry mixture, which will color them in addition to saturating them with flavor. Cover the pan and cook for another 10 minutes, or until done to your liking, stirring from time to time to rearrange the sprouts.

Adjust the salt, if desired, and add pepper to taste. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Top with a few lightly toasted pecans, if desired, or decorate with peeled orange sections.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

-- "The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation" by Mollie Katzen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 2013, $34.99)

Cranberry Granita

2 cups water

5½ ounces cranberries, approximately 11/2 cups, washed and sorted

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Place water, cranberries and sugar into a small saucepan, set over medium-high heat and simmer until berries begin to pop, approximately 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

Puree with a stick blender, blender or food processor, for 1 minute. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer directly into a metal 13-by-9-inch pan. Do not press on the skins. Simply allow the juice to drip through the strainer. Add the zest and stir to combine.

Place in freezer until set, at least 6 hours and up to overnight. Once frozen, scrape the mixture with a fork to create a shaved ice texture.

Serve immediately.

-- foodnetwork.com

Turkey and Cranberry Pie

The original recipe calls for browning whole turkey legs (divided into thighs and drumsticks) in butter, then simmering the meat in stock until tender. Not able to find legs in my local grocery, I took a much quicker path to pie heaven -- turkey breast tenderloin. The results were a lick-your-bowl-clean then beg-for-more Thanksgiving pot pie.

If the filling is a little liquidy (mine was), don't fret. Simply spoon the broth with the meat and pie crust into a bowl instead of onto a plate.

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

3/4 cup sugar

Kosher salt

Olive oil

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 turkey breast tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds)

4 tablespoons butter

1 small carrot, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)

3 stalks celery, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)

1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)

1/4 cup flour

3 cups turkey broth or stock

6 sprigs parsley, leaves minced, stems reserved

1 recipe Easy Pie Dough, made without the sugar

1 egg white

Combine cranberries, sugar, and a 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan and add 1/2 a cup of water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally and crushing berries with a wooden spoon until completely broken down, about 15 minutes. Set aside at room temperature.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place turkey tenderloins in a shallow pan, and drizzle olive oil on top. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until thermometer inserted into thickest portion of meat reaches 165 degrees or turkey is no longer pink, approximately 30 minutes.

Transfer turkey tenderloins to plate and set aside to cool. Chop into 1-inch cubes.

Place 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Heat until butter is melted then add carrots, celery and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour. Cook, stirring constantly until pale golden brown, about 3 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly pour turkey stock into pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until reduced to about 2 1/2 cups and as thick as heavy paint.

Add turkey to pot and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in chopped parsley. Set aside until completely cool, at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and adjust the oven rack to the center position. Roll bottom pie crust out and fit inside a 9-inch pie plate. Add cranberry mixture to bottom and spread into a smooth, even layer. Pour turkey mixture on top of cranberries (you may have a little more than you can use).

Roll out top crust and seal pie. Whisk egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush top crust with egg white mixture and cut 3 to 5 holes for ventilation. Sprinkle sparingly with coarse sea salt. Place pie in oven and bake for 15 minutes until pale golden brown. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until deep golden brown and mixture is starting to bubble through the vents, about 45 minutes longer. Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 8.

-- Adapted from seriouseats.com

Easy Pie Dough

12½ ounces all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2½ sticks (20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats

6 tablespoons cold water

Combine two-thirds of flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.

Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.


Panna Cotta with Cranberries

This creamy, egg-ess custard is so elegant and pretty on the plate. The unmolded panna cotta should just barely keep its shape, then almost collapse when the first bite is taken. Or do as I did, and serve the dessert right in the mold.

I made my own creme fraiche by adding buttermilk to heavy cream and allowing it to sit on the counter overnight to thicken. Yum.

For panna cotta

1¾ cup heavy cream

1¾ cups whole milk, plus 1/2 cup very well-chilled milk

3/4 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, seeds removed, seeds and pods reserved

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1½ teaspoons powdered gelatin

Pinch of coarse salt

3 cups creme fraiche

For cranberry topping

1 cup cranberries

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup orange juice

Combine heavy cream, 1¾ cups milk, sugar, vanilla pods and seed, and lemon zest in a medium pot and heat, stirring occasionally, until a digital thermometer reads 160 degrees. Remove pot from heat, cover and set aside to steep for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put 1/2 cup well-chilled milk in a small bowl. Add gelatin and set aside to soften for 5 minutes.

Uncover pot and return to medium heat. Add salt and milk-gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into bowl. Whisk in cream fraiche and transfer panna cotta to 6 cups or molds. Refrigerate until completely set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

To make cranberry topping, place cranberries in a small saucepan and add honey and orange juice. Cook until the cranberries pop and become very soft and most of the liquid is absorbed. Set aside.

To serve, run a paring knife around the edge of the panna cottas to loosen them, then unmold the panna cottas onto 6 dessert plates. Top each with a spoonful or two of cooked cranberries and serve.

Serves 6.

-- Adapted from "Classico E Moderno: Essential Italian Cooking" by Michael White (Ballantine, 2013, $50)


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