Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas: What To Do with Cranberries
I’ve always had a love hate relationship with cranberries. Out of respect for tradition, I appreciate them. I also love their color. I just want them to taste different. I think I just want them to taste like raspberries. But I digress, as we were discussing new topics for the blog, the idea of creating a menu around one ingredient arose. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, cranberries seemed like a solid candidate for the first attempt. Due to my mixed feelings, I accepted the challenge of creating an entire cranberry focused menu for when you’re wondering what to do with cranberries for Thanksgiving. With that, here we go.
I thought we’d start at the beginning: cocktails! Since cranberries remind me of Cosmopolitans and those remind me of my dad, I dusted off my old bartender hat and got to work. Cosmos: vodka, cranberry and lime, that’s a good base for a cranberry cocktail. However, I have been clinging to gin like the last bit of warm weather. So I changed out vodka for gin. Jack had been working on his ginger liqueur recipe since May, so I took a cue there. Ginger has a nice sense of fall to it and can complement the gin and lime. I took out a pitcher, added gin, muddled frozen cranberries, squeezed in two limes, cranberry juice and ginger liqueur. I stirred and tasted the cranberry cocktail over a rocks glass with ice. Not bad, but something was missing. I added some club soda, it broke up some of the heaviness I was tasting. It's great as a fizz. But still didn’t taste like fall. So I’ll file it away for a good “Spring is here” drink, but maybe next time with a ginger simple syrup instead. Now, I still needed a drink.
I began my All-Things-Cranberry Research, by taking to Facebook. My friend Sara chimed in praising dried cranberries soaked in bourbon. My interest was piqued, after all, bourbon is the color of fall. This was the right path. I knew the rest of my menu would be hearty, so I wanted to open with something that introduced my flavors simply. A cranberry cinnamon whisky sour was just what I was looking for. The key is the simple syrup, something I learned in the previous gin experiment. Reducing sugar, water, cranberry and cinnamon to a thick syrup adds just the right flavors! For a garnish add the dried cranberries and a cinnamon stick. Confession: if given the chance, I will put a cinnamon stick on anything. Cranberry cocktail, check.
Moving on, a few weeks ago I saw a posting on the Instagram account of the New York Times Cooking site. It was a regram from food stylist Melina Hammer making Julia Moskin’s Cranberry Orange Jelly. You can find the recipe here. From the minute I saw it, I knew I had to try it. It might have been the juniper berries (see the above reference to gin) or it could have been the addition of orange. Either way, I liked what she was saying and I gave it a try. The end result was delicious, but it is a bit time consuming. If going this route, I’d suggest taking advantage of its ability to be stored in the fridge and make it in a few days in advance. The recipe online provides helpful alternatives for the ingredients and a plan for getting the mold out. My sister will only eat the cranberry sauce that comes in a can. I am wondering if I add some lines to this homemade cranberry sauce mold I can fool her. We shall see. Side dish, complete.
For an appetizer, I turned to our Test Kitchen. They gave me two similar concepts that I’m torn between. First a cranberry chutney with a creamy cheese, think Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam, available at Bedford Cheese Shop, on a rosemary crostini. You can make the chutney way in advance. Then day of, apply cheese to crostini and top off with the chutney. The second option is a caramelized onion cream cheese bite topped with dried cranberries. Since they are similar in concept and construction I’d suggest making your decision based on your guests. The caramelized onion introduces a new texture and flavor, but it’s not everyone’s favorite. You could always explore ways to combine the two. The cranberry chutney with a caramelized onion might be your winner!
Since you can’t serve a giant bowl of cranberries as an entrée, and adding a cranberry relish felt like cheating, I decided to do some research. I went through some cookbooks, talked to our chefs, consulted the internet and then it came to me: meatloaf! Since meatloaf is essentially ground meat with a plethora of seasonings, adding cranberry sauce is a natural fit. You can even use the cranberry orange jelly we made as our side. To start, gather your meatloaf staples, onion, green pepper, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, thyme, eggs, good olive oil and a ground meat of your choosing, then, add about 14 ounces of cranberry sauce. Your first step will be sautéing the onions and green peppers. The second step will be combining the rest of your ingredients. The cook time and temperature will depend on what meat you choose. Once it’s cooked, let it cool then just slice and serve this delicious cranberry meatloaf. You’ll have an entrée that echoes all your flavor themes nicely.
Moving to a cranberry dessert. Did you think I was going to do a pie? Yeah, I did too. But I wanted to be thorough and present you with some options. I talked to some of our event specialists for their take. We all follow a lot of blogs and food sites, and so when we stumbled upon this nougat I almost fell out of my chair. Similar to my cinnamon stick enthusiasm, I will put pistachios on anything.
I tried it immediately. Nougat with pistachio and dried cranberry. What a treat. As Eva notes in her description, nougat can be a tricky beast. If you have time and want to create a non-traditional Thanksgiving dessert, then this is the dessert to try. The nougat has a honey flavor that reminds you of the simple syrup on the whisky sour. The pistachio is a nice call back to the toasted almonds in the salad as well as the robustness of the chutneys and meatloaf. A great summary to this meal.
Our other team pick is this, cranberry hazelnut tart . And see, its like a pie. You’ll go through a very similar process to the jelly in terms of straining and adding orange like ingredients. The hazelnut cookie shell will turn out similar to the size of the mini pies we talked about last week. In the end, you’ll have a beautiful looking final course. If you can pull it off, make both desserts.
That wraps it up. I hope we’ve given you something to think about when you’re wondering what to do with cranberries for Thanksgiving. For more ideas or to ask some questions, feel free to give us a ring or leave a note.
This has been a very berry edition of The Dish. See you next week when we talk about hosting the perfect Thanksgiving meal.