Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hunt for Red... Err... Cranberry Relish

I held the cranberry orange relish in my hand. It would be so easy to empty the fresh cranberries, orange, sugar, and 100% cranberry juice out of my cart and just use the already-made, Trader Joe's version instead. Did I really want to go through all the effort of making my own from scratch when I could scoop, plop and eat?

I sighed, thought of my blog and the super chic curvy bowl my brother has been bugging me to use, and set the container of relish back into the cooler. There would be no easy button on this one. I charged toward the checkout stand, fully committed to my Saturday morning mission -- creating the perfect topping for my turkey sandwiches.

My love of cranberry relish on turkey sandwiches dates back to my college days when I spent my sophomore year rotating between two lunches. Practically every single week day I nourished myself with either a chicken caeser wrap or the aforementioned turkey sandwich which came topped with a slice of Muenster cheese, an ample smattering of cranberry relish, and the requisite lettuce leaf. After graduating from the dorm cafeteria to off-campus home-cooking (ie. heating frozen pizzas and making grilled cheese sandwiches), I scoured the nearby markets for a similar version of my favorite spread, but never found anything similar. My search continued when I moved back out to Southern California, and for a while, I satisfied my itch with Fiordifrutta Cranberry Spread from Erewhon Natural Foods Market. I thought I had found the perfect product, until sporadic stocking and a jump in price from $4 to over $7 prompted me to say "No go!" on the pricey jar of goodness. I turned my back on the tart little berry and opted to top my sandwiches with a more stable spread, like hummus or mustard.

I have grown to enjoy the various mustards I have introduced to my palate, but with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, grocery stores are now embracing the cranberry like Los Angelos have embraced the cupcake. Everywhere I turn cranberries, relishes and sauces are begging to be my sandwich lubricant of choice. While I have been tempted to purchase them, there is always something that keeps the jar on the shelf instead of in my cart: massive amounts of sugar, corn syrup and other additives that do not belong in my cute striped lunch tote. The Trader Joe's version does seem to be "healthier" and more "homemade" than most varieties, but standing in the overly-crowded aisle on Saturday, I couldn't get myself to buy it.

A good friend once told me that "you can't really like something until you've made it." While I don't necessarily agree with that statement (at all), her words rang in my head like Christmas bells as I finished the rest of my shopping and went home to test out the recipe I had found on Since I was only using a 12 ounce bag of cranberries (as opposed to the 16 ounce bag in the recipe) I needed to change the proportions of the other ingredients. I also cut the amount of sugar in half, like many of the cooks who reviewed the recipe did as well. It was shockingly easy to make, and the results were, for the most part, good.

Biting into my turkey sandwich on Saturday did not bring back college memories of dancing in shady bars and wearing the same pair of jeans five days in a row, but it was a decent first attempt. I did find it to be a little "tart" due to my restrained use of sugar, and also felt it was a little "wet" for an ideal sandwich spread. Furthermore, the distinct cranberry/orange flavors were almost too potent and were both a little too eager to compete with my Boar's Head maple-glazed turkey breast and provolone cheese. Ultimately, I think it would work better as an accompaniment on the big T-day instead of as a mustard/mayo substitute.

Where do I go from here? For now, straight to the refrigerated section at Trader Joe's. Stay tuned for "Iron Chef: Battle of the Relishes."

Cranberry Relish
(Adapted from recipe featured in Parade, November 2002)

12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (use two tablespoons less to adjust for 12 ounce bag)
1/2 cup 100% cranberry juice (use two tablespoons less to adjust for 12 ounce bag)
1 tablespoon orange zest

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries pop open and sauce begins to thicken (took about 15 minutes). Skim the foam off the surface with a metal spoon and discard. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 months.


Alessandra said...

"A good friend once told me that 'you can't really like something until you've made it.'"

That comment sounds like a bit of Caroline-ian wisdom!

Diana H. said...

Actually, the good friend is Jenny from HS -- one of the few people I still talk to from that tragic era of my life!

Esi said...

I was just at TJs yesterday, I didn't realize they sell cranberries! Ugh, now I have to go back. I am sure you will come up with a combo that will make you remember the college days though. Oh, I did pick up a lumpy bumpy bar. Haven't tried it yet though.

Heather said...

yay! i'm so glad you didn't use the easy button! this looks beautiful and totally worth it. and of course i love your super chic bowl :)