Pick of the Month, December ’07

I know, I know. I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t — but sometimes it’s the freedom to not do something that gives you the very desire to do it. Not to mention the fact that I found inspiration, or more accurately, remembered recent inspiration. It doesn’t hurt that, as I’m typing, I can hear the comforting sound of my ice cream maker, churning away at its second inaugural batch: Roasted Banana ice cream. And no, today’s post is not about bananas, but I’m just saying — anything could be churning in that machine, and I would be willing to write about food.

Today’s subject is the cranberry. Although you never really eat just one, do you. So, the plural it shall be — cranberries — and I don’t mean the ones in the bag labeled with the cute play-on-the-word raisin. I mean the ones in the bag in the produce section — the ones you can really only find during the holidays. Or, even more specifically, Thanksgiving — I went looking for fresh cranberries when planning our Christmas day brunch, and my local chain grocery store had nothing to offer.

I’ll be honest here — other than the dried version (which I do happen to love), the cranberry is a bit limited in its usability. Their inherent sourness make them an unlikely snack in the raw, unadulterated form. But they don’t necessarily have to play a secondary role, either — they can hold their own quite nicely with the addition of good old fashioned white sugar. A few years ago, I made a beautiful and surprising discovery: that’s all it takes to make homemade cranberry sauce (well, you need a little water, too). Forget those years of slicing into a perfectly canned-shape mold of jellied cranberry “sauce.” The recipe is right on the back of the bag. And you can get fancy, too, by adding just a tablespoon or two of orange liqueur (c’mon… you know you have that dusty bottle of triple sec sitting around, from that time you made margaritas) and the zest of an orange, you have cranberry-orange sauce (loosely adapted from a Cook’s recipe). I made this for a holiday dinner party, and I have rarely gotten so many compliments on a dish. And it was so simple. And so fast: from opening the bag of cranberries to scooping the finished sauce into a serving dish took about 10 minutes.

Another discovery this holiday season: roasted cranberries. I took this idea from a recipe for a roasted fruit and arugula salad, just leaving out the arugula and salad part. Take a cup each of cranberries and red grapes, and add a couple of pears and plums, sliced into eighths. Toss the fruit together with 2 Tbsps each of melted butter and fresh lemon juice, plus a Tbsp of sugar. Spread the fruit on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake in a 425º oven for about 25 minutes, until the fruit is browned on the edges. This was absolutely delicious as a topping for pancakes, and would I’m sure work just as well with belgian waffles. The tartness of the cranberries was a perfect balance for the sweetness of the other fruits. And it made our Christmas brunch taste, well, Christmas-y.

So, long live the fresh cranberry. Investigate the possibilities, and please — if you are happy with the results, do share. Happy New Year, blogland — now if you’ll excuse me, I have a batch of hot fudge sauce to make…

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