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Consider the Cranberry

This week is a guest-post by my culinary genius friend, Z.D. Gladstone! It’s a recipe to consider for your upcoming holiday feast. Enjoy!
“Consider The Cranberry” by Z.D. Gladstone
To me, no holiday reveals more about people’s personalities than Thanksgiving.  Some folks try to make it about U.S. history, or cultural values, or other deep ideals.  But let’s be honest: Thanksgiving is about food.  Period.  And what we choose to serve (or not to serve) is hugely indicative of our characters.
For me, it all comes down to the big three: roast turkey (duh), the Gladstone Family Stuffing recipe (yes, as in stuffed inside the bird), and cranberry sauce.  The rest is negotiable.  Now roasting a turkey is not for the faint of heart, and I haven’t the constitution to try and teach those skills via blog.  The stuffing is a family matter.  But cranberry sauce…now there’s a glorious world of deliciousness just waiting to happen.  Let me bring you into the fold, and teach you the simple miracle of home-made cranberry sauce!
Most people I know buy their cranberry sauce.  Some go for the high-end jarred varieties, others can’t imagine anything except the can-shaped concoction gracing their table.  I’m here to convince you that this year – yes, THIS year – is your year to make your own.  And here are three reasons to do so:
1) It’s ridiculously easy.
2) You can make it up to a week in advance.
3) You can make it exactly the way you like.
4) Did I mention it’s ridiculously easy?*
All you need is a bag of fresh cranberries, a sauce pan, water, and sugar.  The rest is up to you, and you can’t mess this up.  So what kind of cranberry sauce do you like?  Do you prefer a molded cranberry gelatin thingy?  Allow me to recommend this recipe by culinary genius Alton Brown.  Go ahead and watch the short video, it will de-mystify the process considerably.  And yes, you can do what he does and use an empty can for a mold, so you get those nostalgic ridges around the edge.
But perhaps you go for a saucier cranberry concoction, more like a chutney.  After all, it’s easier to use on your leftovers sandwich. Here is a standard cranberry sauce recipe, with some ideas for how to spice it up:
Mandatory Ingredients:
One 12oz bag fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
1 Cup water
1 Cup white sugar
1 pinch kosher salt
Optional Ingredients:
1 tsp fresh chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, or sage)
finely grated zest of 1 small orange OR lemon
1 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/2 tsp allspice + generous pinch ground nutmeg
2 tsp freshly grated ginger root
1/2 Cup dried tart cherries &/or chopped dried apple
1 tsp freshly ground Grains of Paradise
 – In a medium saucepan, combine all mandatory ingredients.  Choose anywhere from one to three optional ingredients (you could do more, but the flavors will start to get muddy) and add those to the pot as well.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
 – Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring often, until cranberries have popped and sauce has thickened somewhat, about 15 – 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and keep in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.
Yeah, that’s it!  So what are you waiting for?  Should you prefer your sauce a bit more tart, you can reduce the sugar to 3/4’s Cup.  If you REALLY want to get adventurous, you can try adding some heat, like minced chipotles in adobo sauce, or Sriracha.  Or you can go for something more mellow, like freshly cracked cardamom seeds and a scraped vanilla bean (make sure you remove the bean before serving).  Or if you are trying to make the in-laws a little more chill, stir in some Grand Marnier, or Creme de Cassis, or Ruby Port.  Or you can get really exotic, and try sake and miso paste.**
Always taste just before serving, as flavors can mature as sauce sits.  If you find your sauce tastes a little flat, try a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar to brighten it up.  And make sure everyone knows you made this from scratch, because if they like it, guess what you’re in charge of bringing next year?  Easiest.  Bring-along.  Ever.  Now go give thanks!
*Yes I can count.
**Not for the faint of heart, but if you get it right it’s soooooo nummy!
Z.D. Gladstone is a writer and chef who blogs at Scribbles and Munch.
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