Stephen Fries: A sweet time of year for crisp cranberries
Fall favorites; apples, and then pumpkins have recently taken center stage here. Not wanting to rush the year away, I’ve held writing about sweet potatoes and cranberries until now. With the start of November and Thanksgiving only a couple of weeks away, I figured now is the time to “talk” cranberries and sweet potatoes.
No matter how many Thanksgiving dinners you’ve prepared, for most, it always seems to be stressful. From the planning of the meal to the washing of the last plate, Thanksgiving creates more anxiety for home cooks than any other holiday. Why get nervous and fuss, since most tend to stick to their tried and true dishes: turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce; and for dessert, fall pies such as pumpkin, apple or mincemeat. These seem to be the Thanksgiving dinner must-haves.
When cranberries come to mind, most think of the can, and the challenge of removing the jellied cranberry sauce. Many years ago, I used the canned variety, too, until I realized how easy it is to make cranberry sauce and other dishes using fresh cranberries. Sweet, tangy, juicy, sour — there’s nothing like a cranberry to give a burst of flavor to dishes sweet or savory. Full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C, cranberries are good for us, too. While most think of cranberries during fall, they’re readily available year-round, fresh, dried and frozen. No need to wait for Thanksgiving. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, 20 percent of the 400 million pounds of cranberries consumed in the U.S. each year is during Thanksgiving week. I was surprised to learn that it is Wisconsin, not Massachusetts, that is the leading producer of cranberries with 60 percent of the crop.
While a glistening and juicy turkey takes center stage on the table, it is the side dishes, frequently incorporating sweet potatoes or cranberries, that many of us look forward to eating. If you are like me, you have your standards, but still like to add one or two new dishes to the feast.
“The Cranberry Cookbook: Year-Round Dishes from Bog to Table,” by Sally Pasley Vargas (2017, Globe Pequot, $18.00) recently joined my single-subject cookbook collection. The photos will entice you to run to the store and purchase the ingredients to make some of the recipes. I enjoyed the sidebars covering everything from cranberry folklore to modern cranberry farmers and nutritional information. Knowing fresh cranberries might not be available year-round where you shop, the author tested each recipe with frozen cranberries as well as fresh, so it’s perfect for any time of year.
“The Cranberry Cookbook” is a treat for anyone who appreciates classic flavors with a modern twist like cranberry-chocolate babka, Waldorf salad, upside-down gingerbread with apples and cranberries, or this recipe for roasted harvest vegetable soup with cranberry coulis. For the recipe for roasted carrots and cranberries, visit http://bit.ly/2h6hlKu
The author writes, “At the end of summer before there is even a nip in the air, markets fill with mountains of squash and root vegetables that beg to go into soup. Think of this recipe as a guideline, and pick and choose what is available to you. This large batch is suitable for serving a crowd, or for stashing some away in the freezer to pull out on a rainy night. Moroccan spices add a touch of warmth to the colorful little specks of vegetables. Roast the vegetables until tender but still a little firm. Before pureeing, baste them in the toasted spice and butter mixture, add water, and cook just long enough to bring the flavors together. The soup will be thick when pureed, so add enough water to bring it to a soupy consistency. A spoonful of yogurt adds a cooling element, while cranberries offer a tart and sweet accent.”
In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the cranberries, wine, sugar, bay leaf, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 7 minutes, or until the cranberries are soft. Cool to room temperature. Remove the bay leaf and ginger. In a blender, puree the mixture until smooth.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil 2 rimmed baking sheets. On the baking sheets, spread the onion, carrots, celery, parsnips, turnip, and squash. Drizzle with the oil. With your hands, toss together, massaging the oil into the vegetables. Spread in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender but still slightly firm when pierced with the tip of a paring knife.
In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the ras el hanout, and cook, stirring for 30 seconds to toast the spices. Add the vegetables to the pot and stir to coat them with the spice. Add enough water to cover the vegetables. Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to a simmer, and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Cool briefly. In a food processor, working in batches, puree the vegetables and broth until coarse and a little chunky. Transfer to a clean pot. Add the lemon juice and honey. Cook, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Thin with more water if the soup is thick. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Garnish with spoonfuls of yogurt and drizzle with cranberry coulis. Serves 10.
*If you can’t find ras el hanout, Moroccan spice blend), mix together 1 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground ginger, and salt, ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ground coriander seed, cayenne, ground allspice and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves.
“Sweet Potatoes: Roasted, Loaded, Fried and Made into Pie,” by Mary-Frances Heck (2017, Clarkson Potter Publishers, $16.99) is another seasonal single subject cookbook added to my collection. I enjoyed how the author thought out of the box for Thanksgiving dishes, exploring the vegetable’s use in sweet and savory creations. Sweet potatoes take well to many preparations; think of it as a blank canvas. Most people only think to bake them. The author, former test kitchen director at Bon Appetit, leaves no “potato” unturned, providing cooking techniques for roasting, steaming, boiling, mashing, coal roasting, frying and the new craze of spiralizing. She presents dishes that draw on seasonal and global influences, from West African sweet potato leaf and fava bean stew to summery grilled sweet potato with garlic-maple glaze to sweet potato chocolate babka. This recipe for sweet potato galette is perfect for a Thanksgiving Day brunch. For the recipe for black-bottom sweet potato pudding pie, visit http://bit.ly/2xFdC9q
TIP: The galette can be assembled and stored in the refrigerator the night before you plan to bake it.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly dust a work surface with flour and unfold the puff pastry onto it. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry into a 12-inch square. Place the puff pastry on the prepared baking sheet. Shingle the sweet potato slices on top of the puff pastry, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Scatter the onion slices, bacon, and thyme over the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the vegetables with a little salt and pepper. Bake until the sweet potatoes are tender, the bacon is sizzling, and the pastry is puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and crack the egg onto the galette. Sprinkle the egg with some salt and pepper. Return to the oven and bake until the egg white is set and the yolk is still a bit runny, about 6 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 2.
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