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Thanksgiving with the Wonderberry

Posted: November 23, 2010 10:19 p.m.
Updated: November 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Cranberry pesto pumpkin bowls are a gorgeous side dish for your Thanksgiving feast. Cranberry pesto pumpkin bowls are a gorgeous side dish for your Thanksgiving feast.
Cranberry pesto pumpkin bowls are a gorgeous side dish for your Thanksgiving feast.
Merry Graham poses with her Merry cranberry glazed turkey. Merry Graham poses with her Merry cranberry glazed turkey.
Merry Graham poses with her Merry cranberry glazed turkey.

Since October, I’ve tagged myself with a new name, the Cranberry Queen.

My reign began when I answered the telephone and heard, “Congratulations, you are the grand prize winner of Ocean Spray’s Ultimate Cranberry Recipe Contest!”

My heart skipped a beat as my mind quickly tried to remember what delectable cranberry recipe I entered. You see, I enter at least 12 recipe contests a month, and it all becomes a blur. On the phone, my new best friend was sharing how the judges raved about the savory yet sweet goodness of my caramelized cranberry-mushroom galette topped with cran-orange mascarpone cheese.

She also informed me that they would arrange a trip for my husband and I to New York City to attend the VIP Cranberry Bog party. I listened intently and continued to try to descramble all the possible details of the contest. She ended the conversation with another heartfelt congratulations and mentioned Ocean Spray would send off my substantial prize package. Substantial? What does that mean? Was she referring to the NYC trip?

I raced to my desk, frantically flipping through files in search of my “Recipe Contests Entered” folder. Darn that filing system. Unsuccessful, I searched Google, where I can find everything except the location of my car keys.

There it was, the answer to my substantial question. “Grand prize consists of $10,000 awarded in the form of a check made payable to the winner and a 3 day/2 night trip to attend the Ocean Spray Bog Event VIP Party in New York City.”

“Woo hoo,” I thought. “New York, I’m coming to pick up my substantial prize package!”

I’ve always been a fan of cranberries, but as the unofficial queen of cranberries, it’s now my duty to share some cool facts I learned at last month’s event, where my husband and I sat down and chatted with a few of the bog owners. Ocean Spray has been “grower-owned” since 1930. That means the same 600 families who harvest the cranberries and grapefruit also own the company. I was so impressed with their commitment, dedication to detail and hard-working ethics in producing a quality product.

Cranberry bogs, I learned, are quite technical, with bog owners dashing out of their homes in the wee hours of the morning if the temperature in the bog triggers off an alarm.

Many of the bogs have been owned for up to five generations, so no wonder they have harvesting down to a science; Ocean Spray produces 7 out of 10 cranberries sold in the world.

The worldwide craze for cranberries is not only due to their flavor, but to their nutrition. Cranberries contain more antioxidants per gram than other common fruits and emerging research suggests that cranberries may also support heart, oral and stomach health along with the already well-known fact of promoting urinary tract health.

My Aunt Mu claims her daily glass of cranberry juice is why she isn’t on any prescription drugs at the age of 86. I must say, she is in great health and rarely gets sick.

Cranberries also contain powerful nutrients called proanthocyanidins, which simply means cranberries keep certain bacteria from sticking to the inside of your body. It is no wonder that Ocean Spray has tagged this little jewel the Wonderberry.

I’m not the only fan of cranberries — Americans consume 400 million pounds of cranberries a year, with 20 percent of them served during Thanksgiving week.

Legend has it that the pilgrims were the first to serve cranberries at their Thanksgiving in Plymouth, and we have been serving them ever since.

As Cranberry Queen, I felt it was my duty to host a cranberry feast in my home. I challenged myself to create a menu that featured cranberries with one exception—the mashed potatoes— then summoned my girlfriends to attend my pre-Thanksgiving feast. They all accepted, and a cranberry delicious feast it was.

Merry’s cranberry-mushroom galette
Serves four

1 8-ounce container
   mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon Ocean Spray
   Jellied Cranberry Sauce
1 tablespoon orange
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup chopped red onion
1 cup Ocean Spray
 Craisins Original Dried
3/4 cup chopped fresh
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon-pep
   per seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked
3 tablespoons Cran-Tan-
  gerine Cranberry
  Tangerine Juice Drink
1 sheet frozen puff pastry,
5 cooked bacon strips,
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine cheese, cranberry sauce and marmalade in a small bowl.
Chill until serving.
Cook sugar in a large skillet over medium-high heat for one to two minutes or until it begins to melt. Add onion; cook and stir two minutes longer.
Add dried cranberries, mushrooms, oil, lemon-pepper, salt and paprika.
Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat. Add cranberry tangerine drink; cook until mushrooms are tender, about four minutes, stirring occasionally.
Unfold puff pastry on a greased baking sheet. Spread cranberry mixture to within an inch and a half of edges; sprinkle with bacon.
Fold edges up one inch and pinch the corners.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with basil.
Cut into four pieces. Serve warm with topping.

Cranberry pesto pumpkin bowls

Serves eight

2 sweet baby pumpkin
   pie pumpkins, washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
4 slices bacon, cut in
   1-inch pieces
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon smoked
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons pure maple
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon
2 tablespoons fresh
Cranberry pesto (recipe
to follow)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place pumpkins in microwave; cook on HIGH for eight minutes.
Cut partially cooked pumpkins in half, scoop out seeds and discard (or bake the seeds to snack on later).
Place two pumpkin halves upright on a cookie sheet. Brush olive oil in each half and sprinkle with garlic salt; roast for 20 minutes or until fully cooked and soft, or heat in microwave on HIGH until soft.
Peel remaining two pumpkins, and cut into one-inch cubes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, on medium-high, fry bacon eight minutes or until almost crisp; stir in onions and paprika and saute for five minutes or until onions are beginning to turn golden.
Turn heat to medium, add cranberries and maple syrup; stir continually for one minute.
Stir in orange juice, zest, salt, lemon pepper and pumpkin cubes; cover, and cook on medium-low for five minutes or until pumpkin is fully cooked. Pour into pumpkin bowls.
Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until warm throughout (or heat in microwave).
Top with cranberry pesto and sprinkle with chives.
Cut pumpkins into quarters to serve.

Cranberry pesto
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup mild pepper rings
1/2 cup marinated sweet
 red pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic
1 tablespoon honey

Finely mince ingredients in food processor.
Sprinkle with lemon pepper to taste.

Green beans with cranberry-mushroom compote
Serves six to nine

1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 pounds green beans,
1/4 cup melted butter
4 slices bacon, chopped in
   1-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt or
   garlic salt
2 tablespoons shallots
1 cup chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon balsamic
1 tablespoon fresh lemon
   Lemon zest from one

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add one tablespoon salt.
Add the green beans and cook until just tender, four to five minutes.
Drain and run under cold water to cool; transfer to a serving bowl.
Toss in melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until almost crisp, six minutes.
Turn heat to medium and add shallots and mushrooms, continue to cook until shallots are just beginning to brown, about two minutes.
Turn heat to low, and add cranberries, vinegar, lemon juice and lemon zest; continue to cook until mushrooms are cooked.
Taste and season green beans with salt and pepper.
Spoon compote on top of green beans before serving.

Merry cranberry
glazed turkey

Soak your thawed or fresh turkey in a quart or two of buttermilk the night before. Rinse the bird.

1/2 cup cranberry pesto
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon minced
1/4 cup white wine

Mix ingredients. Tuck the cranberry mixture under the skin of the turkey.
Slather some butter on the skin of the turkey, cover with foil, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Drop the temperature to 350 degree and continue to bake 20 minutes per pound.
Brush cranberry glaze on turkey every 30 minutes.
Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes of baking.
Cranberry glaze
3 cups fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup sugar
1 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup orange juice

In a medium saucepan, combine ingredients and heat on medium-high.
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, or until cranberries burst and sauce is very thick.
Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a mixing small saucepan.
If the glaze is not thick, continue to cook to reduce until desired thickness.
If glaze is desired thickness, cover, and set aside until ready to brush on turkey.
Merry Graham is a Newhall resident, fantastic home cook and winner of numerous recipe contests. Merry’s recipe for cranberry-mushroom galette can also be found in the December issue of “Everyday with Rachael Ray.”


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