'Tis the season when you find piles of fresh cranberries in the produce section at your local grocery store. They always look so pretty in their bright red hue. And compared to so many other holiday treats, cranberries are actually good for you. They're packed with fiber, antioxidants, and tons of other vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of cranberries contains 24 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C.
But what if you have no clue what to do with them (other than look at them)? No worries. We've got five ideas that are so simple and delicious, you might want to grab a few extra bags now and toss them in your freezer so you'll have them for later when fresh cranberries won't be available.
1. Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Of course this one is obvious. But so many people just don't do it. So start by ditching that canned stuff and make your own. It's not that hard; just toss the ingredients in a saucepan and give them a stir now and then. You'll get a much better tasting cranberry sauce to enjoy with your turkey and a lot of compliments at dinner.
There's typically a basic recipe on the back of the bag of cranberries — 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a 12-ounce bag of cranberries. You bring the water and sugar to a boil, add the cranberries, lower the heat and slow-boil it for 10 minutes. Simple.
But consider that your starting point. You can doctor that base recipe with other ingredients like cinnamon sticks, strips of orange or lemon zest, slices of fresh peeled ginger, or a few splashes of your favorite spirit (think bourbon or Grand Marnier) and make it all your own. You can even substitute some of the white sugar for brown, or replace some of the water with orange juice.
Whatever your twist on homemade cranberry sauce, let the final concoction sit for at least 15 minutes to cool; the pectin naturally present in the cranberries will thicken the sauce. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
2. Freeze Cranberry Sorbet
If you can make homemade cranberry sauce, you can also make cranberry sorbet, and it sure is a nice light dessert to enjoy after a huge holiday feast.
For a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, use 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of water, a tiny pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of corn syrup. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan, bring it to a boil over medium heat, then reduce it and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cranberries pop open.
Cool the mixture slightly, then transfer it to a blender. Blend until smooth. (Note: To blend hot liquids, start with a pulse first to prevent the liquid from splashing out of the jar onto your skin or countertop.) Strain the mixture through a sieve and then chill it for at least 8 hours, until it's about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.
You can add strips of orange or lemon zest to the saucepan while the cranberries cook; just be sure to remove them before blending.
3. Enhance Your Apple Pie
Want to jazz up a classic American dessert? You can by adding fresh cranberries to your apple pie. Just toss in about a cup of fresh cranberries to the apple filling of a deep-dish apple pie and bake according to your recipe. Remember, cranberries will add tartness to the flavor of the pie, so your apples should be sweeter varieties — try Ginger Golds or Golden Delicious.
Bonus: You can also use cranberries in place of cherries in a pineapple upside-down cake. A ripe pineapple is super-sweet and contrasts nicely with the tart cranberries.
4. Pour on Some Cranberry Syrup
Give pancakes, waffles, French toast or even cocktails some seasonal flavor with homemade cranberry syrup. Guess what: If you tried the sorbet or homemade cranberry sauce, you've got this, too. It's just a matter of ratios.
Basically, you're making a simple syrup. Put 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan and add 2 1/4 cups fresh cranberries (about 8 ounces). You can make the flavor of your syrup more complex with strips of lemon or orange zest, or a slice or two of ginger. Bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes, until your syrup picks up color and the cranberries darken. Don't overdo it — cranberries have a lot of pectin and if you cook your syrup too long, you might get jelly instead.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain out the cranberries from syrup. Cool, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Heat it up as needed for breakfast.
5. Dip Into Cranberry Guacamole
You're probably thinking fruit is the last thing you want in your guac. But it works: Not only does it look colorful and festive, tart fresh cranberries add nice contrast to creamy avocados. Make your guacamole with diced avocados, halved fresh cranberries, diced onion or sliced green onions, very thinly sliced jalapeño or serrano chiles, minced fresh garlic, lime juice and salt. Fold these ingredients together very gently with a silicone spatula to combine and serve immediately. Cover leftovers with this water method or with plastic wrap directly on the surface.