String lights around your house to bring a cheery brightness to a cold winter day. Add cranberries into your menu to achieve the same effect.
As a disease-preventative, antioxidant powerhouse, cranberries best every other fruit and vegetable except blueberries. Working them into your diet makes good nutritional sense — but I use them because of the intense pops of color and tang they lend to sweet and savory dishes.
When fresh cranberries are available — generally September through January — I make sure to grab at least four bags, a couple of which will go in the freezer. Frozen cranberries are a tart stand-in for blueberries in quick breads, syrups, and other treats.
Fresh cranberries are typically purchased for making sauce. Over the years, I’ve made all kinds of dolled up sauce recipes — yes, even Mama Stamberg’s (in)famous horseradish version. Port, figs and jalapeños have their place but I love the versatility of a simply flavored sauce — cranberries, sugar and a little orange zest are all that’s required.
A simple sauce is, of course, wonderful with turkey, but I love it best with plain yogurt and a sprinkling of granola on top.
For a more indulgent treat, I swirl cranberry sauce into pans of gingerbread or brownies before popping them into the oven to bake. Delicious!
My go-to cranberry sauce is unusual in that it’s raw. It doesn’t taste or look raw, but it has a freshness and texture that is delightfully different from cooked sauce. While it’s incredibly easy to make, it does require the use of a stand mixer (a food processor won’t work). You slowly beat the berries for about one hour (!) which breaks them down, releases their natural pectin, and transforms them into sauce. If you have a stand mixer, please give it a whirl.
Raw Cranberry Sauce
Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a beater attachment, add one bag of cranberries, 1¼ cup sugar, and one tablespoon grated orange zest.
Mix at the lowest speed until berries break down and form a rough sauce: 45 to 60 minutes.
Note: The cranberries will want to hop out of the bowl initially so drape a towel over the mixing bowl for the first few minutes.
The sauce will keep at least one week in the refrigerator.
A particularly festive way to enjoy cranberries is in cocktail form. What holiday party wouldn’t sparkle with cranberry margaritas, old fashioneds, Moscow mules, or sparkling wine cocktails? All you need to create a signature holiday drink is flavorful cranberry simple syrup.
Cranberry Simple Syrup
Over very low heat, add one cup water, one cup sugar and one bag of lightly crushed or chopped cranberries (see note). Stirring frequently, barely simmer the cranberries until they have completed softened, 20 to 25 minutes.
Pour into fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing gently on solids.
When the syrup is cool, store in airtight container for up to two weeks.
Note: To avoid the problem of runaway cranberries, place them in a large freezer bag and press with the bottom of a heavy pan until the berries crack.
Preparing the sauce over low heat will reduce the amount of pectin released by the cranberries. If the syrup sets up a little after being chilled, give it a good shake before adding to your cocktail.
Cheers and Happy Holidays!