Friday, November 23, 2007

The Cranberry Sauce Post
I have always loved cranberry sauce. My late mother made an uncooked cranberry sauce that was, in essence, raw cranberries, honey, orange juice and orange peel all blitzed together in a blender. One of the beauties of her sauce was that you could adjust the ingredients on the fly. Too tart? Add more honey. Soften the cranberry flavor? Add more OJ. I like it a lot. But I like a more jell-ified sauce even better.
Heck, I even like the tradition ridged cylinder of canned cranberry "sauce" but that doesn't mean I'd actually like to have it on my table. But don't let my culinary elitism deter you if you want to slice a disc of that to put beside your slice of turkey.
With all as prelude, this year I decided that I wanted to make "my" cranberry sauce. And, as is my wont these intarwebnet days, I first went to and searched on (you can see it coming, right?) "cranberry sauce." And what came up almost first in line was Cranberry Sauce with Port and Tangerine. Here is the nub of the gist of the recipe:
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup ruby Port
3 (3- by 1/2-inch) strips tangerine zest
1/3 cup tangerine juice (from about 2 tangerines)

Bring cranberries, sugar, Port, and zest to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in juice. Cool completely.
Please do click the link though for some more information and to give the good folks at Epicurious another page view.

I made one batch of this recipe as written. And it was good. Very good. Very, very good. Port really (I mean really) works well with cranberries. But as I said, I wanted to make this my own. My first thought was, "wouldn't chopped walnuts be nice in this?" So I added a half cup just as I removed the mix from the heat. I wanted the nuts to be touched by the heat enough to be softened but still with some crunch. And I was right. It worked. worked for me at any rate.
I'm not sure that the amount of zest I use is particularly what the recipe calls for but I zest one entire tangerine. And I keep the zest pieces small as taking a spoonful of cranberry sauce with a five-inch long piece of citrus zest dragging behind is just wrong. And the zest is cooked enough that its easily edible.
For my next batch I added a half cup of an orange-flavored brandy-ish thing I was given too many years ago to count. In my first try, I added it with the tangerine juice which meant the alcohol didn't have a chance to burn off. It was good but I thought the alcohol gave it a bit of an unnecessary edge. So in future batches I added the "brandy" (orange-flavored I jump to point out again - I would not have used plain brandy) at the same time as the port. And with those changes, I have arrived at "my" cranberry sauce.
I have made another batch in which I substituted a scant cup of orange blossom honey for the sugar. It's cooling in the fridge so I can't say that it's a radical improvement but I think a really nice orange-blossom honey is a superior sweetener to cane sugar. And when I finally kill the orange fake brandy, I would probably use Cointreau instead. Cointreau is so wonderfully complex a liqueur that it might be a superior choice.
One other variation that I'll probably try, though I'm not sure it would be a superior change, is to sweeten the sauce with maple syrup instead of the sugar or the honey. It's a change that cries out for empirical testing nonetheless.


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