They're everywhere this time of year...especially if you're in a part of the world that celebrates Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. Just glance at food magazines and websites and I guarantee you'll see the li'l guys peeping out at you in one form or another. But regardless of how you prefer to consume them, cranberries remain tasty, nutritious and pretty versatile. Plus, without cranberries we'd have no cranberry sauce, and therefore no fodder for the endlessly entertaining debate of whether the stuff in the can is better than the kind you make yourself.*
Cranberries also make an excellent accompaniment to alcohol. We're all familiar with their use in venerable drinks like the Cosmopolitan and the Cape Codder, but another way to get cranberries playing nicely with your hooch is to make an infused simple syrup with them. You'll need:
Roughly chop cranberries. Heat cranberries, sugar and water in saucepan over low/medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let syrup sit for 30 minutes, strain, bottle and refrigerate. (for a more intensely-flavored syrup, you can increase the amount of cranberries and the allow them to steep in the syrup longer)
Here's a drink I created that's just one example of how you can use cranberry's distinctive flavor in a cocktail:
Shake everything with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with 3 cranberries perched on a tongue depressor. (just kidding)
What if you don't want to mess around with all that homemade-ingredient stuff? Here's a way to incorporate cranberry flavor into your drink that requires nothing more than a trip to the grocery store:
Shake with ice and strain into rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange and a wedge of lime.
This recipe comes courtesy of Eric Felten, from his book How's Your Drink? The Bardstown Sling is named in honor of the Kentucky city where several Bourbon distilleries are located, including Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, and Maker's Mark. Bardstown also is host to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which Felten describes in How's Your Drink?:
"The annual Bourbon bash in Bardstown features five days of distillery tours, cooking classes, roots and country music concerts, art exhibits, train rides, and bourbon-barrel relay races. For early risers, 'Kentucky Bourbon Breakfasts' are served, with whiskey in the butter and coffee. (Once upon a time, a Kentucky Breakfast was slang for starting the day with Bourbon and nothing else.) Each year there is a 'Mixed Drink Challenge,' in which local restaurants and Kentucky distillers compete to come up with a cocktail that will be featured in next year's festival."
The Bardstown Sling was the official cocktail of the festival in 2004, and it's a great showcase for cranberry flavor in a drink. It's also noteworthy in that it calls for cranberry juice cocktail, a blend of cranberry juice and a sweetener (usually either high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar) which is often shunned by many discerning drink-makers in favor of the unsweetened, all-juice variety. Felten notes that using the sweetened kind is crucial here, and I agree. It's an extremely tasty drink, and one you should feel no guilt over for dragging out the Ocean Spray (or whatever brand you favor).
Thanks for drinking!