Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mmmm, Mmmm, Cranberries

I love cranberries. I look forward to them every year, patiently anticipating them throughout the bountiful summer months, and as soon as I see them in the stores, I hold myself back so I don't buy 3 bags while it's still too warm outside for my family to appreciate them. Not that I've ever discussed it with them, but if I contain my excitement for a few weeks until the chill sets in (at least a bit), then I can make cranberries last that much longer into the winter.

Speaking of family, cranberries were not just a decoration at our family Thanksgiving table. I think lots of people grab "that can" just because it's supposed to be there, and someone at your dinner party might like to taste a little with the turkey. When I was growing up, we all ate the cranberries, my dad taking an extra quart of Grandma's homemade relish with him every time we left my Grandma's Thanksgiving dinner, and we were served both this relish and the canned jelly variety. The canned cranberries always made me giggle a little, since it was the only time of year I'd see a jelly molded into the form of a rippled can. (Actually, it was the only time of year I'd see a jelly mold at all.) And we didn't disturb the perfect form; it was plated perfectly on its side, smooth and sleek (except for bumps from the mold), and stayed that way until dinner started, unless we sliced it neatly. The homemade cranberries, on the other hand, were not given such homage. They were poked and tasted frequently before the meal was underway.

When, at last, I can restrain myself no longer and purchase that first bag of cranberries, I inevitably do the same thing with it: cranberry orange muffins. Those hit the spot. Sweet muffin, orange essence, and the bright punch of a cranberry. If you haven't made them, you should. Often. I used to use Martha Stewart's recipe from her cookbook The Martha Stewart Cookbook (made in regular muffin tins rather than hors d'oeuvres-size), but this year I tried the variation found in The Best Recipe. Both are good for different reasons: Martha's is a very delicate and traditional muffin with a lovely texture, while The Best Recipe's is very much like a cake. I think I prefer Martha's version, but I'm always willing to try something new.
After making the muffins, I'm left with half a bag of cranberries, the perfect amount to use for a new cranberry sauce recipe. For dinner Monday, we had pork tenderloin I'd browned with salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard, then sliced into medallions and seared to finish. It went perfectly with my new cranberry sauce. Here's the recipe:

Apple Cranberry Sauce

1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. water
6 oz. fresh cranberries
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 small Gala apple, peeled and diced
2 slices orange peel

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until most of the cranberries have popped and the apples begin to soften, 7-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving, or refrigerate to cool completely.

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