TTT- Tuesday’s Tasty Tip with Chef David Hall

Cranberry: Color or Food?

One of the things I like about the Christmas season is color. Living in the desert at the edge of Phoenix, we have our changes of color within the (singular) season. This means the desert turns from a dull brown to a dark brown with a few green plants that blossom a day or two after a spring rain, assuming we get a spring rain. Other than that, we mainly experience ranges of color between light brown, medium brown and a little darker medium brown. In contrast, houses in our neighborhood are all sorts of different colors. You have your beige, sandstone (another name for beige), tan and then you have a very light brown. It rather reminds me of Tel Aviv except everything is the same limestone color instead of sandstone.

When the holiday season comes, our neighborhood goes wild with color. We hang lights from the houses, bushes and of course cactus. Living at the base of a mountain preserve, some homeowners can’t leave well enough alone. In addition to their homes, they start moving up the mountain with their lighting options. Stars, choo-choo trains, manger scenes, Santa running over Rudolph with his sleigh; you name it we got it. It is all quite fun and I truly look forward to it.

Color plays a large part in how we perceive our world. Advertising and branding companies make millions of dollars helping product manufacturers figure out how to capture our attention with color. It is no different with your Christmas/Holiday dinner table. Red is the most striking color this time of year. You can’t go anywhere without seeing it, whether it is what you see in decorations on buildings and displays, or the color you see when that little old lady from Minnesota cuts you off in the parking lot, stealing the parking space with your name on it.

Red will bring some “POP” to your dinner table.

Don’t go out and purchase special plates and flatware for just one or two dinners. Instead, use your food to make the table the star of the evening…which brings me to cranberries. Cranberries can bring a lot of “pop” to your holiday celebration because they can be used in so many different ways and because they are so brilliant in color and flavor. Sprinkling a few cranberries on your dinner table runner garnished with holly will make a striking centerpiece. However, consider actually eating them.

Let’s start by dispelling the notion that the red jelly stuff that comes in a can is anything close to a real food product, much less cranberry sauce. Purchasing a can of cranberry sauce is simply a public admission to being lazy. Boiling cranberries in sugar and water is hardly rocket science. Following the simple instructions on the 12 oz. bag and add some vanilla, toasted pecans and orange zest may not impress the James Beard review panel, but will definitely impress your family and guests’ palates. For a little extra kick, add a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Try making a simple cranberry parfait for a quick dessert. Simply simmer those cranberries for an extra 5 to 10 minutes on low, strain out the juice, then chill. After chilled, fold the cranberry liquid into some fresh whipped cream. Alternate layers of cranberry whipped cream with regular vanilla whipped cream into champagne flutes and top with toasted slivered almonds, orange zest and a mint leaf. You’re a dessert champion!

Bring out the champagne. Add some cranberry juice and top with a berry on the rim. It does not get any simpler than that. Even those (all two of you) who do not like champagne will like this refreshing drink.

Cranberries are a versatile ingredient but they are seasonal. This is why I purchase at least a dozen bags during the holiday season. They freeze well and will last until next year’s season arrives. So stock up while you can because they will be gone in a couple weeks.

Try this cranberry muffin recipe. Make a lot of them and freeze them. If you’re in a rush, substitute Pamela’s Baking Mix for similar results.

Gluten-free Cranberry Pecan Muffins

Pre-heated oven to 400 degrees F and grease/line your muffin tins.

Sift together the following ingredients:

2 cups gluten-free flour

3 tsp gluten-free baking powder

1 tsp xanthan gum

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch of cloves

1/2 tsp finely ground Kosher salt

Mix the following ingredients together in a mixing bowl:

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil (sunflower is used here)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Procedure:

Roast and chop pecans to yield ¾ cup.

Coarsely chop 1 cup of washed cranberries.

Combine the wet ingredients and dry ingredients, beating for about 30 seconds.

Fold the nuts and cranberries into the mixture.

Spoon into muffin tins and bake about 20 minutes, depending on the oven.

Putting things into perspective: This Thanksgiving morning at about 4:30 in the morning, a dear friend of ours died of brain cancer, leaving behind an amazing man she called her best friend and husband. Debbie and I had the blessing and the opportunity of a lifetime to share part of the last of her journey here on earth. While our Thanksgiving Day was solemn, our sadness was tempered with the knowledge that she is an indelible part of our hearts and minds. Her loving impact on us will last until we see her again at the golden gates. In her last days, she did not waste one minute of her life. As her husband said, “She drank deeply from life’s cup.”

Remember, the holiday season is not about “gifts.” It is about giving – giving of yourself, your time, your food and most importantly, your heart. Take time out to let those you care about know how special they are to you. Be specific, be sincere, then pause and remain in the moment. Drink in life’s goodness with those you love. Your words and loving kindness may be just what is needed to bring much needed joy to someone you care about. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. Until next week…

Blessings,

Chef David

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