Red pucker power

It’s hard not to think of cranberries this time of year. Little red orbs that they are, cranberries are synonymous with the festive season. Rare is the turkey that’s served without glistening, ruby pools of cranberry sauce.

But there’s a little problem with these berries – they are pucker-up tart and not easy to eat straight. Yes, they mellow with a little cooking and indeed, become more palatable once sweetened, yet it’s the raw, nude cranberry that delivers the most health benefits.

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An age-old remedy, cranberries were used by Native Americans to help heal urinary problems, wounds, fever and stomach complaints. Now science affirms cranberry’s curative properties, as they are loaded with proanthocyanidins (PACs) which prevent certain bacteria from clinging to the epithelial cell lining of the urinary tract and causing infection in the body. These same PACs may also prevent stomach ulcers, stopping Helicobacter pylori bacteria from adhering to stomach lining.

Besides PACs, cranberries have a bundle of nutrition to offer. They’re a very good source of fibre, manganese, vitamin C and a good source of vitamin E, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin K.

But still, who can chow down on them raw?

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Cranberry Bog Photo credit: Ocean Spray

Cranberry farmer Janina Mey of Lavaltrie, Quebec chops up fresh cranberries and tosses them into her breakfast cereal, sometimes adding apples or pears. For a healthy taste of decadence, she ups the health quotient by adding dark chocolate shavings to her granola.

While Mey has plenty of access to fresh cranberries during her harvest from mid-September to mid-November, she encourages consumers to reach for frozen berries year-round, tossing them into smoothies, sprinkling on top of salads or tucking them into a bowl of hot oatmeal.

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Photo credit: Ocean Spray

Few people love sour enough to simply munch on naked cranberries. Instead, a bland counterpoint can help mellow their bite. Think rice, pasta, bread even mashed sweet potatoes. All offer a blank slate ready for the zing of a cranberry.

Or capitalize on their tart smack and make a salsa. Chop two cups of cranberries in a food processor, sweeten with a little maple syrup or honey, spice up with a chopped jalapeno and/or chili flakes and add chopped cilantro, lime juice and a little salt.

Cooking makes for a more mellow cranberry. Toss 2 cups of cranberries with a tablespoon of olive oil, chopped fresh thyme, a diced shallot and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and cook in a 400 F for 20-25 minutes or until caramelized. Serve with roast chicken or pork chops, or layer on mashed potatoes or let it cool and serve on greens.

When all else fails, keep a bag of Craisins on hand. Yes, they are loaded with sugar (a whopping 29 g or 7 tsp of sugar per ¼ cup serving) but make a delicious addition to baking. I make my own blend of trail mix combining Craisins with nuts and seeds and am happy to tuck a Craisin or two into a dark chocolate levain dough to bake up bread that’s more like dessert than anything else.

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Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

If you like crunchy, crisp biscotti that can stand a good dunk in your coffee, this is the cookie for you. It will store for weeks in a Mason or cookie jar and makes a terrific holiday gift.

¾ cup shelled pistachio

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat or spelt

1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tsp               baking powder

½ tsp              sea salt

4                      large eggs

3 tsp               vanilla

¾ cup             Craisins

Flour

Granulated sugar

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Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To toast pistachios, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, tossing once halfway through. Allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla.

Pour egg mixture into flour and combine to create a sticky, heavy dough. Mix in pistachios and Craisins. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Dust countertop lightly with flour and roll out 2 logs (13 in x by 2 in for big biscotti) or 4 logs (13 in x 1 in for small biscotti a.k.a. “cantucci”) and arrange on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Sprinkle a large pinch of granulated sugar over each log.

Bake on middle rack for 30 minutes or until golden and firm. Completely cool logs on a rack (1 to 1 1/2 hours). Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise into 3/4 inch wide slices. Arrange -cut side down- on baking sheets and return to 350 ° F oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp.

© 2016 Madeleine Greey

 

 

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