Cranberries add burst of flavor to holiday meals

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Gwen Ragno/Flavor 574

What would the holidays be without food? There are so many foods that are a part of the holidays, and some of them are foods we only have this time of the year. Cranberries are the perfect example. 

Cranberries may be tart, but they certainly sweeten the holiday season. A traditional holiday meal would not be complete without a bowl of cranberry sauce next to the turkey or ham.

There is nothing that tastes quite like a cranberry. They add a lively burst of flavor and gorgeous rosy color wherever they’re served.

Unlike the raspberry or the strawberry, the cranberry’s lustrous scarlet color disguises a flesh that is much too bitter for eating out of hand.

But when you stir those tart berries into sauce, chutney or pie; bake them into bread or muffins; or eat them dried or sweetened, the cranberry’s vibrant goodness and flavor is released. 

Cranberries are a nutrient dense food. They are low in calories, high in fiber and offer potassium and vitamin C. They are also a source of the phytochemical ellagic acid, which may help combat cancer. 

Cranberries also have properties that protect our bodies from certain types of bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections, gum disease and stomach ulcers.

So, spooning an extra serving of cranberry sauce or relish on your plate during the holidays, especially at the expense of ham, stuffing or gravy, is healthful!

When it comes to buying fresh cranberries, we are in the prime season. Most fresh cranberries are sold in 12-oz. plastic bags. They were once sold in one-pound bags. Many of my recipes call for a pound, so be sure to check the label.

Once you are ready to use the cranberries, pick out any mushy or discolored ones, then rinse. If you plan to cook them with sugar, keep in mind that sugar toughens cranberry skins if added before they soften. Instead, cook them in the liquid called for in a recipe until they pop, which usually happens in about five minutes, then add the sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

When baking with frozen cranberries, don’t bother defrosting them first — just sort through them, rinse, drain and simply mix the berries into the batter.

Cranberries are easy to toss in the freezer and keep on hand for the rest of the year when not available. You can freeze the berries right in their own bag, but I would place them in an additional freezer bag.

When your recipe calls for chopped cranberries, use a food processor for quick results. The 12-oz. bag will measure out to 3 cups. If you have leftover cranberry sauce, refrigerate for several days or freeze it in an airtight container for up to six months.

Dried cranberries, also known as craisins, have all the nutrients and phytochemicals of fresh cranberries, and are available year-round. Unlike fresh cranberries, dried cranberries are sweetened so they are delicious eaten all by themselves. They also make a superb addition to granola and other cereals, and can be baked into anything calling for raisins.

’Tis the season to enjoy cranberries, so be creative!

What do you like to make with cranberries?

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