I am not an “adventurous” eater.
I try new things very warily and some things, I refuse to try at all. Most of the things on my "do not eat list" are parts of the animal that need to be discarded and not consumed. Andrew Zimmerman, I am not!
I do, though, have great respect and admiration for those who discovered a food by being brave enough to try it when they had no idea what it was. Things like oysters. What kind of person opened one up and thought to themselves, “These are probably good to eat?” Who caught a shrimp and figured out that you remove the head, tail and shell before eating it? I tend to think these persons were probably starving and discovered many of the delicacies we enjoy today.
I wonder these things with cranberries, too. Most of you have probably not tasted a raw cranberry. It’s hard, tart, bitter and crunchy. If we reached down and plucked one of these berries in the wild, we would probably spit it out and never try again. Nonetheless, cranberries have been a food staple throughout history. It’s believed that they were used by Native Americans in a dried meat, fat and berry concoction called pemmican. Pemmican was high in protein and a way to preserve meat. Packed in a rawhide bag, pemmican would last for 10 years! It was easy to carry when traveling and could be boiled in a stew, fried or eaten raw.
Today, most cranberries are grown for and consumed in cranberry juice, and of course, that congealed stuff that comes out looking like a mold of the can: cranberry sauce. Sadly, most of us rarely deviate from the juiced or jellied form of cranberries and miss out on the diversity of this delightful berry.
I decided this year that I would break out of the mold and be a little “adventuresome” with cranberries. I read a lot of recipes, pulled a few out and used my husband, his sister and brother as my guinea pigs while we vacationed together at the beach a couple of weeks ago. We were all pleasantly surprised with the experiments. Of course, everything I do has a potential of showing up in a column (it’s a threat I use very effectively on my family and friends) and this week, the cranberry experiment wins!
One of our beach traditions is watching the sunset on the porch with cocktails and appetizers. I incorporated many of the cranberry recipes into our sunsets.
The Cranberry Margaritas were a big hit. These are the perfect Thanksgiving/Christmas cocktail. The Cranberry Bacon Jam was my favorite. I served it on a crostini, but it would be good poured over brie. I may or may not have eaten it straight from the pot when no one was looking. It can be made ahead, which is always gets a gold star from me. I served the Cranberry-Balsamic Chicken one night for dinner and everyone raved about it. It, too, is a dish you can prep in advance and just put in the oven about an hour before you’re ready to eat.
All the recipes were delicious — which is a testament to the value of cranberries in our everyday meals. I hope you’ll enjoy these recipes as much as we all did.
Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to sophiesmarketplace.com.
Cranberry Bacon Jam Crostini
• 1 pound bacon, finely chopped
• 1 medium onion, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon (about 4 cloves) garlic, minced
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon brewed coffee (hot or cold, doesn’t matter)
• ½ cup cranberry juice
•¼ cup maple syrup
• 1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• ½ cup dried cranberries
• 1 baguette, thinly sliced
• White cheddar or cheese of your choice
1. In a medium pot, cook chopped bacon until nicely browned. Transfer bacon to a plate covered with paper towels. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of grease from pot.
2. In remaining bacon fat, cook onions over medium heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook about a minute until fragrant.
3. Return bacon to pot and add brown sugar, coffee, cranberry juice, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and dried cranberries.
4. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 30 minutes, until thickened and syrupy. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray. Lightly butter both sides of bread and toast for 3-4 minutes.
6. Slice cheese thinly, cutting one slice for each piece of bread.
7. Flip bread slices and top with cheese slices. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of bacon jam on top of cheese and place in oven for 4-5 minutes, until bacon jam is warmed through and cheese is melted.
Cranberry and Pecan Pinwheels
Makes 20 servings.
• 1 ¼ cup dried cranberries
• 1 cup pecans, chopped
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 2 refrigerated pie crusts
• 2 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1 whole egg
• 2 tablespoons water
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a food processor, pulse the cranberries, pecans, sugar and cinnamon until well combined.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll each pie crust into a square and brush with melted butter.
4. Spread half of the cranberry mixture onto each pie crust square. Roll each pie crust into a log. Pinch the edges to seal.
5. Combine the egg and water in a small bowl and beat until well blended. Brush each log with the egg mixture.
6. Put logs in the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and cut each log into 10 slices with a serrated knife.
7. Place the slices, cut side up, on the prepared baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Place pinwheels on a cooling rack.
8. Spread a teaspoon, or more, of the honey on each pinwheel. Let cool before serving.
When choosing a roasting dish, try to use one the chicken fits into tightly. Having a lot of room between your pieces will make it dry out faster. Serves 6-8.
• 1 medium whole chicken, cut up
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cups fresh cranberries
• ¼ cup soy sauce
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• ½ cup balsamic vinegar
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Fresh thyme sprigs
1. Place chicken pieces into a gallon-size zipper bag.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and pour into bag with chicken. Add a cup of the cranberries to bag, reseal and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken in a casserole dish, putting the breasts and thighs around the edges and the remaining pieces in the middle.
4. Pour marinade over chicken. Add remaining cranberries to the dish. Top with some fresh thyme sprigs.
5. Cook, uncovered, in the oven until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees, about 40-45 minutes. If chicken isn’t browned enough, place under broiler for 2 -3 minutes. Top with extra fresh thyme before serving.
Yields 4-6 drinks.
• 1 ¼ cups cranberry juice cocktail, divided
• ½ cup sugar, divided
• 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) fresh cranberries, rinsed
• ¾ cup fresh lime juice
• ¾ cup tequila
• ½ cup orange-flavored liqueur, such as Triple Sec
• 3 cups coarsely crushed ice
1. To make sugar-rimmed glasses, pour ¼ cup cranberry juice into a shallow bowl. Pour 3 tablespoons sugar onto a plate. Dip rims of 4 to 6 margarita glasses or similar sized glasses into juice, then sugar.
2. Set aside 12 cranberries for garnish. Add the remaining cranberries, cranberry juice, sugar, lime juice, tequila, orange liqueur, and ice to an electric blender and process until the mixture is smooth and slushy. If your blender won’t hold all the ingredients, divide the mixture and blend in 2 batches, and then mix together.
3. Divide among glasses and garnish with reserved berries, skewered on toothpicks.