Cranberry Showdown

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and I have to admit that it is most definitely my favorite major holiday of the year. It may seem like an obvious choice coming from a chef, what with Thanksgiving being so food-centric and all, but there's another, more meaningful reason behind my love of turkey day, and it has to do with the fact that it's the only holiday with no real baggage attached. It really doesn't possess a materialistic alter ego like all the other holidays do. At its core, it's all about being together with your family and friends, sitting around the table and enjoying each other's company along with some traditional foods. Hopefully you like being around your friends and extended family as much as I do...that can make it or break it!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I was called upon to do a cooking demonstration for sixty or seventy attendees of Le Cordon Bleu Chicago's open house for prospective students over the past weekend, and I needed to choose a Thanksgiving themed recipe to demonstrate. As a chef instructor, I love turning any experience into a learning opportunity, so I decided to treat this group to a compare and contrast exercise using cranberries as the test subject. Along with the turkey, cranberries are one of the most recognizable Thanksgiving symbols, and I wanted to use them in two very different recipes to showcase how versatile they really are.

First, I showed the group how easy it is to make your own classic, comforting, simple cranberry sauce, so I combined one twelve ounce bag of fresh cranberries, one cup of sugar, and one cup of water in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, turned the heat down and simmered it for ten or fifteen minutes. Once chilled, the sauce is ready...it really is that simple. To contrast the classic rendition with an edgy, modern one, I made a very spicy fresh cranberry salsa that started with coarsely chopping a bag of fresh cranberries in a food processor, then pouring them into a bowl and folding in some diced jalapeno chilli, a bit of cilantro, a pinch of cumin, a bit of red onion, a few chipotles (smoke dried jalapenos) for a smoky kick, a squeeze of lime juice, and some honey for a sweet balance to the sour citrus. I'm not sure which one the crowd liked more...they were both big hits. Get both of these on your table and you're sure to have a very happy Thanksgiving.