Thanksgiving. Christmas. The food part of the holiday season kicks off in earnest tomorrow. Turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, with and without marshmallows, green beans doused in condensed soup and onions that emerge from a can and yet are suspiciously supposed to be “fried,” scads of warm dense pies filled with all manner of fruit and nut. And inevitably… the cranberry. A great deal of us were introduced to cranberry sauce via the can. If you were very lucky, you could make the “sauce” slide out in one solid quivering log. More often than not it had to be scooped out into an eery dark mass that was sparingly scooped onto the plate in an obligatory holiday act, then poked and pushed around to make more room for stuffing. In more recent times the home cook has been inundated with a hundred different ways to make cranberry sauce from scratch, a task only a few steps more complicated than opening a can. This garners our ruby friend a hair more respect on the plate, but it is still competing with the stalwart old standards that are set to bust the belts of everyone seated at the table. So why not make our tart little friend something other than a side at a holiday table? Why not enjoy the cranberry for simply being… a cranberry? A tart fruit that smacks you in the face and rises above other challenging strong flavors. A fruit that cooks so easily, needing no peeling or chopping, just drop into a pot and stir while watching the skins slowly stretch and pop (much like the bellies around the holiday table.) Why not use it to top off some yogurt?
Scintillating cranberries play well with the mellowed out bite of crystallized ginger. Regular sugar is too blase for the feisty little berry. Honey, now there is a sweetener worth the time of the cranberry. Enough to add a little complexity, but not so much as to take away from our ruby diva. A splash of water, a bit of time in the pan, where the cook can take delight in smashing the bursting morsels, a little bit of cooling, and voila. A simple little compote, tartness tempered by a bit of sweet, topping off smooth, lovely, cool yogurt., a base that lets the diva swim around and sing like the Esther Williams of the breakfast world. Maybe you add orange zest in, maybe orange liqueur, maybe some jalapeno, or maybe you use only the cranberry and honey, just enough to take the edge off. This cranberry sings solo, it is no backup to turkey or any other vegetable. Try it. You might like it.
Cranberry Sauce Option #543
6 oz. whole cranberries
3 Tbsp. honey (my preference, use more or less if you like… start out with 2, see how you like it, go from there)
app. 2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1/4 c. water
Add all the ingredients (reserve 1 Tbsp honey) into a small saucepan. Set over medium heat. Stir often, especially once the cranberries start to cook and burst in earnest. It keeps the number of messes from the cranberry explosion down. Cook until all the berries have burst (making sure to take some childish joy in smooshing some of them against the walls of the saucepan.) Taste for sugar, add more if you like. Let cool to room temperature. Plop a good spoonful onto a bowl of straight up plain yogurt (or vanilla, if you don’t like plain.) Stir it up, enjoying the pink swirl. Add as much or as little as you want.
Notes: You will definitely notice the chunks of ginger, which will sort of turn jellyish when cooking. I might consider either pureeing this for real in a blender before adding, or trying ground ginger in place of the crystallized. It also might be good with a bit of a liqueur. I am not overly fond of cranberry and orange, although it does work well, but adding orange zest or Grand Marnier would likely work wonders in here, too. And I was totally serious about adding jalapeno. But that… that is another recipe.