Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Cranberry, not just a relish

The cranberry. Because of it's nutrient and antioxidant qualities it is considered by food experts to be one of the "super fruits" yet for most people it brings to mind Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Generally it is served as fresh cranberry relish, or even more commonly as a relish from a can. Of course you can always find it in the juice form and in most stores as a dried berry in the same aisle that raisins and prunes are stored.

Until a couple years ago I never really gave this berry much thought outside these two holidays. So when I went hunting for a bag of fresh berries in February I was shocked to discover that stores only sell them in their fresh state for only two months of the year. (In my area from late October/early November until the end of December.) Apparently there is not enough demand for fresh berries outside of these two months so cranberry farmers put the majority of their produce into the form of canned berries, dried berries, and juice that can be bought 12 months a year.

Because of this I was left with the choice of canned berries or dried berries for my recipe. I was disappointed, but in the end the dried worked out fairly well. Still, I determined to buy up some extra bags the following November and freeze them for use later in the new year. The berries left in their bags freeze well and can be used later in all sorts of recipes or even as fresh cranberry relish.

The following are two recipes that call for fresh cranberries. (Note: you could substitute dried, but the fresh is preferred.) They are favorites in our home and I encourage you to pick up a couple bags of fresh berries now, even if you don't plan to try the recipes for a couple months. The berries will last up to (or even a little over) a year in your freezer.

Cranberry Orange Bread

I found this recipe at Since it isn't my own and I've done little to adapt it I have linked the name to the recipe. Be sure to check it out and print off a copy for your own files.

My thoughts: Every Christmas I try to bake some sort of seasonal bread to share with our neighbors and friends. The last several years I have made a family favorite, Lemon Bread, but this year I decided to try something different. Since I still had two bags of cranberries in the freezer I went hunting for a cranberry bread recipe. There are several, but this one seemed the easiest. It turned out well and went fast, so I ended up making a second batch.

Notes regarding the recipe: The recipe calls for 1 cup of cranberries. Each bag of cranberries from the store contains approximately 4 cups, so to save time I just multiplied everything in the recipe by four. This required a large bowl, but ended up giving me 10 small loafs of bread, perfect for sharing. If you decide to double, triple or quadruple the recipe be sure to use a stand mixer, not a hand mixer or a spoon. The batter gets thick and sticky, which makes it difficult to stir. Although the batter is thick it cooks into a light, fluffy, sweet yet tart bread.

I omitted the walnuts, not so much because people aren't crazy about nuts (or have allergies), but because I didn't have any on hand. I noted that it is also possible to make this recipe gluten free so long as the cook substitutes gluten-free flour for the regular flour.

Braised Brisket with Cranberries

This is another favorite recipe of mine. It's such a delicious meal on a cold winter evening (or Sunday dinner), but since cranberries are not available past New Years it tends to be a recipe you can only make in November or December... Unless you freeze your berries! (This recipe is the reason I started buying up and freezing cranberries, it's that good.)It makes a lot of food, so it's perfect for serving when we entertain company. I love the mix of flavors - the tartness of the cranberries, the richness of the beef and the tang of the onions. I found this recipe a few years ago in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine.

My Thoughts: I do not have a big enough pot that can be used on the stove burner AND in the oven, so I had to move the meat from one pot to another, but otherwise this recipe was fairly simple. It takes a while to cook, but it smells so good and is so delicious that it is worth the wait.

Note: I prefer to use a bag of frozen pearl onions, but not all stores sell them -- or if they do, they sell them seasonally. Like the cranberries you may have to plan ahead and purchase the frozen onions earlier than when you plan to use the recipe. However, when frozen pearl onions are not available you should be able to find fresh pearl onions. The fresh require a little more work (i.e. pealing), but work just as well.

For those who prefer not to use drinking wine in their cooking you could substitute cooking wine, or vegetable/chicken broth (though this may slightly change the overall taste of the recipe).

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