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Getting to Know Cranberries Has Paid Off

The first time I saw cranberry sauce I had no idea what the red, wiggly disc wedged between mashed potatoes and a slice of turkey could be. With a mother from England and a father from Eastern Europe, beets were the only red food I knew and they were soaked in vinegar and didn’t wiggle. This mystery food was cold, sweet and looked like Jell-O. Never having seen a cranberry, I assumed that jellied cranberry started as a powder that was mixed with water and cooled until it was a brightly colored, quivering mass.

I discovered cranberry sauce with whole berries a few years before I saw bags of fresh cranberries at the market. When I used the recipe on the bag, the resulting sauce, made with uncooked berries and oranges, had more interesting flavor and texture than the canned version. This sauce was a step in the right direction, but I wanted more — more variety, more interesting flavors.

My next experiment with cranberry sauce was inspired by a jar of Cumberland sauce. I wanted to mimic the spicy hit of this sauce seasoned with ginger and mustard but I had an impossible deadline — guests were arriving in 10 minutes. Limited in time and by the contents of my pantry, I managed to create a spicy, crowd-pleasing sauce with three ingredients in less than five minutes. Here’s how I did it:

SPICY CRANBERRY SAUCE

1 can whole berry cranberry sauce

2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

zest and juice of 1 orange

I tipped the cranberry sauce into a serving bowl and used a fork to break it up. Then I stirred in the horseradish and the orange zest and juice. The white flakes of the horseradish set this sauce apart from the unmodified sauce on the table. At dinner the spicy sauce disappeared quickly. I serve this sauce year-round with meat loaf, baked ham, roast pork or chicken.

My third experiment was inspired by the success of the spicy cranberry sauce. I wanted to create an even more complex sauce with better color and texture. Roasting rather than boiling the cranberries would intensify the color and flavor of the finished sauce. After some tweaking I created a savory sauce with a spicy note.

ROASTED CRANBERRY SAUCE

1 bag of fresh cranberries

zest of one lemon

1 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground

I sorted, washed and drained the cranberries and then combined them with the lemon, sugar, olive oil, kosher salt, jalapeno pepper and cardamom pods.

I transferred the mixture to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. After baking for 10 minutes in a 450- degree oven, the cranberries released their juice and were ready to be transferred to a bowl. To finish the sauce I stirred in the juice of half an orange and two tablespoons of Marsala wine. I let this sauce sit for an hour before serving so the flavors could meld.

Cranberry sauce, whether straight from the can or an innovative version, is a welcome side dish but these ver

satile berries can also be the basis for dessert. Consider cranberry mousse, a three-ingredient wonder.

CRANBERRY MOUSSE

1 cup jellied cranberry sauce

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

1 Tablespoon orange liqueur

I stirred the cranberry sauce over low heat until it was the consistency of apple sauce, then let it cool to room temperature while I whipped the cream in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks formed. I folded the softened cranberry sauce into the cream along with one tablespoon of orange liqueur and spooned the mousse into four dessert bowls. After chilling in the fridge for an hour, the mousse was ready to be served.

If cranberry mousse doesn’t tickle your palette, how about cranberry gelato?

CRANBERRY GELATO

2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar — divided

1 cup cranberries

1 Tablespoon water

Gelato is made by combining a creamy custard and fruit puree. For the custard, I heated the milk and cream in a saucepan over low heat while I whisked together the egg yolks, salt and half a cup of sugar in a bowl. When the egg mixture was thick and pale yellow, I slowly added half a cup of the heated cream mixture to temper the egg yolks. I poured the tempered egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and heated the mixture, stirring frequently, until it had thickened slightly. When it reached 185 degrees, I removed it from the heat and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

While the custard cooled, I made the fruit puree by simmering the cranberries with the remaining quarter of a cup of sugar and one tablespoon of water until the berries formed a thick sauce. I pureed the cooked berries in a blender and put them in the refrigerator to cool. I combined the cooled fruit and custard and finished the gelato in an ice cream maker.

To freeze the gelato without an ice cream maker, pour the gelato into a shallow metal pan, put the pan in the freezer and stir the mixture every 15 minutes until it is frozen. Transfer the gelato to a bowl, cover and freeze for at least an hour before serving.

As a grand finale, I recommend cranberry ginger trifle for your next holiday feast. This dessert consists of layers of cranberry compote, chunks of butter cake and a fluffy mixture of cream and cream cheese and will serve 12.

CRANBERRY GINGER TRIFLE

24 ounces whole cranberries (2 – 12 ounce bags)

2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups orange juice

8 ounces cream cheese

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups heavy cream

1 pound cake, cut into 1-inch chunks

I combined the cranberries, ginger, sugar and orange juice in a medium saucepan. After simmering this mixture for eight minutes, I set cranberry compote aside to cool. I used a stand-mixer to combine the cream cheese, brown sugar and vanilla. When the mixture was smooth, I added the cream and continued beating until soft peaks formed.

I put a third of the cake chunks into a large glass serving dish, spooned one third of the cranberry compote onto the cake and then spread one third of the cream filling on top. I repeated this process twice more and refrigerated the trifle overnight. Topped with slivers of crystallized ginger before serving, the trifle was the grand finale of a delicious dinner. I used a frozen pound cake from the grocery store, but if you’re feeling energetic a homemade butter cake will also work.

When you see cranberries at the market I hope you are inspired to think outside the bag.

Carol Egbert lives in Quechee, where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.