Reinventing Thanksgiving, Part II: The Cranberry Conundrum


Regina Charboneau

Editor's note: This is Regina's second post in a series about reinventing traditional Thanksgiving foods. To read the first post, click here. Or try her recipes for cranberry and fig confiture or easy cranberry-orange compote.

If I were going to compare food to fashion, I would have to say turkey at Thanksgiving is like Coco Chanel's little black dress. Just as the little black dress is essential to a well-balanced wardrobe, the turkey is essential to the Thanksgiving meal—a must-have. So, if turkey is the little black dress, cranberries are the classic pearls. But food also just like fashion in another way: You can reinvent it all you want, but if it is worth doing it has been done before. Knowing that, we continue trying to update and reinvent, and on a rare occasion it works and becomes fashionable, even if just for a season.

The caramelized cranberries with the earthy caramelized figs really worked—especially with a touch of orange from the Grand Marnier.

Last week when I started this three-week series of reinventing Thanksgiving—"Traditional Foods, Fresh Recipes"—I really thought it would be easy to come up with some new ideas. I felt good about my roasted squash and pecan popovers and loved the butternut squash with quinoa salad from Michael Symon in Food & Wine's new book. But when I began working with cranberries, it was a bit more of a task. As I mentioned last week, I have been looking through new cookbooks out for the holidays to recommend to you. Several of these books successfully combine cranberries with orange (Food & Wine's Reinventing the Classics, for example), as does Richard Bertinet's new technique book Cook (the combination of cranberries and clementine compote). I totally approve of those combinations.

For those of you who are not familiar with Richard Bertinet, the French chef and baker, he opened The Bertinet Kitchen in 2005 in the center of historic Bath, England. The school offers a range of courses for food lovers of all abilities and specialist baking and bread-making courses for amateurs and professionals alike, and it has been featured in the PBS television series Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth. Cook is a book I would recommend for anyone who likes to learn technique. Bertinet's dishes are fresh and interesting, and the recipes are well-written, with many basic techniques sewn in. I have found myself wondering which of my nephews who are discovering cooking to give a copy of this book to for Christmas. Probably all.

Like the simplicity of the black dress with pearls, it is hard to beat the simple recipe of placing cranberries on a cookie sheet, covering them with white sugar and drizzling them with white brandy, and baking them until they are sweet and plump. I have done cranberries with orange and last year I shared my recipe for baked yams with cranberry-mango chutney, but I was still in search of a new combination. In my experimentation with cranberries over the years my all-time favorite combination is fresh cranberries in my gingerbread cake ... but not with turkey.


Regina Charboneau

Last week I had a friend visiting who asked if I would prepare some simple food for their flight back to Chicago on their private plane. I had made a big dinner the night before: We had smoked tomato, corn, and crab chowder and a butter lettuce salad with egg, asparagus, and mustard vinaigrette, then pan-roasted quail with smoked bacon and tiny potatoes and tiramisu with vintage rum for dessert. So, I decided something simple and light would be what to send on his flight. I had some frozen cranberries in the freezer and went with a quick throw them in a pot, and poured sugar over them and some Grand Marnier. As I do quite often, I left the kitchen and came back about one minute too late. The sugar had caramelized (seconds away from burning) and that was not what I was after. The cranberries had become "candied."

Trying to make the deadline of my friend's pilot coming to pick up the food, I searched for a way to correct the mistake. I found fig preserves, added a touch more Grand Marnier and a touch of water, and I liked what started out as a mistake.

The caramelized cranberries with the earthy caramelized figs really worked—especially with a touch of orange from the Grand Marnier. It has already been typed onto my Thanksgiving menu. I know what is going to be served with my turkey. Now if I can just figure out what to wear with that little black dress.

I have two recipes for you—my fig and cranberry confiture and a very easy cranberry and orange compote made with store-bought orange marmalade.

Recipe: Fig and Cranberry Confiture
Recipe: Easy Cranberry-Orange Compote