November 25, 2009

The merits of cranberry sauce

I had another recipe planned for today's posting, but changed my mind at the last minute for something more festive. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, after all, one of my favorite holidays. My mom and I like to plan the menu a couple of weeks before, incorporating old favorites, tried-and-true dishes, and a few new ones, always with room for play. Just about every year, along with some sort of side dish and at least one dessert, I bring homemade cranberry sauce to the table. Not everyone loves it, not everyone appreciates the difference between a pot of sauce lovingly simmered over the stove to perfection and the bland canned variety, which takes the shape of the can itself, quivering in its gelatinous state until sliced into rounds. And that's okay. I'm not judging people here. I just happen to love homemade cranberry sauce and will continue to make it every year, because it's that important to me in rounding out this all-important autumn feast.


Some of my favorite cranberry sauce recipes include orange juice. It's fun to play around with flavors and try new combinations, with various spices or citrus zest or dried fruits. I don't always make the same exact recipe, because of this. This year, though, an old recipe popped up that looked awfully good, one we've had before, although whether I made it or someone else did isn't certain. Any way, it's full or orange juice and orange zest and cinnamon, enough to make a sweet-tart sauce, leaning a bit more on the tart side. Oh man, it's tasty, in a very zippy sort of way, except for one thing: the recipe called for four teaspoons of grated orange peel, which turned the sauce a little too tart, with almost a bitter note, so I would make it with only two teaspoons, as I've written in the recipe below, or maybe even try it without the orange zest entirely to see what happens. There's plenty of orange juice to make up for it. Other than that, the sauce has good flavor. The spices don't overwhelm, which can easily happen with this type of dish, as I've experienced before, especially since all of the flavors meld over time and become more pronounced.

Since not everyone enjoys the citrus spiked, tart variety of cranberry sauce, my mother requested a sweeter batch, with apricots, which I easily adapted from the same recipe. Just take out the orange zest and spices, replace the orange juice with water, and add chopped dried apricots. The apricots add a sweet note, nicely complementing the tangy cranberries. I would have preferred spices in this one, too, like more cinnamon and a dash of cardamom, but not everyone in the family loves exotics spices like me. It is nice to have a plainer cranberry sauce, though, to suit everyone's tastes, and it turned out well, so I can't complain.


These are both easy to pull together, and are even quick to cook. The majority of the work consists in zesting the oranges, but if you leave the orange peel out, that makes the process even more simple. Once you try freshly made cranberry sauce, even a basic one made with cranberries, sugar, and water, you'll note the difference in flavor compared to the canned stuff. You may even become hooked on it, much like I did.

Tart Cranberry-Orange Sauce
Adapted from Bon App├ętit (I think)

4 cups fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 cup fresh orange juice, divided into ¾ cup and ¼ cup
½ cup honey
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp finely grated orange peel
1 ½ tsp finely grated lemon peel
¼ tsp ground allspice

Combine cranberries, ¾ cup orange juice, honey, sugar, cinnamon sticks, lemon juice, orange peel, lemon peel, and allspice in a large sauce pan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until berries burst and liquids start to thicken, stirring occasionally, 6 - 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Mix in remaining ¼ cup orange juice. Discard cinnamon sticks. Chill in a glass container.


Cranberry Apricot Sauce
Adapted from above recipe

4 cups fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 cup water
½ cup honey
¼ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp finely grated lemon peel

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until berries burst and liquids start to thicken, 6 - 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Chill in a glass container.

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