Cranberries are something people tend to associate only with turkey at Christmas, yet they have a wonderfully unique flavour and texture that should be taken advantage of throughout their season of October to December.
This week I have used them in their fresh form, cooked lightly with port and orange, and served with a stunning soft cheese, and in their dried form to make cookies – something festive that's nice to have to hand for impromptu guests.
The other seasonal ingredient featured here is parsnips. I love the almost menthol pungency of roasted parsnips, so I make the most of them at this time of the year. Their sweet, nutty creaminess perfectly complements most red meats. Here I have used them to make a baked parsnip gratin using both nutmeg and thyme to enhance the dish. As the ultimate in comfort food I have served it with braised beef.
I have also included a quick supper or weekend-lunch recipe for parsnip and honey soup with chestnuts – soothing, sweet, and perfect for the current chilly climate.
Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, London SW1 (020 7235 1200, www.the-berkeley.co.uk)
Cranberry, port and orange compote with Vacherin Mont d'Or
Vacherin Mont d'Or is a soft and creamy cheese made with milk from the cows that graze on the summit of Mont d'Or in France. It is then made in Charbonnières in Switzerland, so is in fact a Swiss cheese. The sweet and sour contrast of cranberries works beautifully with this amazing cheese. Perfect eaten in front of the fire with a bottle of gutsy red.
For the compote
250g/8oz fresh cranberries
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
250ml/8fl oz port
100g/31/2oz sugar (caster or granulated)
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
3 cardamom pods
Vacherin Mont d'Or
French country bread, sliced thinly
Place all ingredients for the compote into a medium-sized saucepan and place over a low to moderate heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves then allow to simmer gently until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove and discard the cinnamon, star anise and cardamom and place mixture into a shallow container, cover loosely and refrigerate until cool. Transfer into a small bowl and serve on a cheese board with the sliced bread and cheese for your guests to help themselves. Note that you will need a spoon to serve the cheese, given its gooey texture.
Spiced cranberry, macadamia and white-chocolate cookies
These festive cookies are a great treat – the sweetness of the white chocolate, the crunchy richness of the macadamias and the tang and chewiness of the cranberries, all in one.
Makes 12 cookies
100g/31/2oz unsalted butter, softened
70g/3oz caster sugar
70g/3oz demerara sugar
1 medium free-range egg
60g/21/2oz dried cranberries
60g/21/2oz white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
60g/21/2oz macadamia nuts, chopped into small chunks
170g/6oz plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
For the topping
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
15g/1/2oz white chocolate
Cream the butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy. Mix in the egg then the cranberries, chocolate and macadamia nuts. Combine the flour, baking powder and mixed spice in a separate bowl, then fold into the butter mixture. Mix until just combined then roll into a sausage shape and refrigerate until firm. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ Gas4. Slice the roll of biscuit dough into 12 slices and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are a light-golden colour. Remove from the oven and grate the white chocolate over the top and sprinkle with the mixed spice.
Parsnip, thyme and nutmeg bake with braised beef
This dish is something different from the usual roast veg and looks stunning. If you have vegetarians at Christmas, try the bake on its own, using vegetable stock.
For the beef
4 tbsp vegetable oil
600g-800g/21oz-28oz beef, topside or shoulder
2 carrots, peeled and quartered
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2 stalks celery, halved
1 leek, white part only, halved
1 bulb garlic, halved lengthways
3 tbsp tomato purée
300ml/10fl oz red wine
1/2 bunch thyme
1 tsp white peppercorns
3 bay leaves
3 tbsp soya sauce
1/2 tsp table salt
1 litre/13/4 pints beef or chicken stock (beef stock will give you a richer end-product)
For the bake
100ml/31/2fl oz white wine
1/2 bunch thyme
2 bay leaves
150ml/5fl oz cream (single or double)
350ml/12fl oz milk
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp table salt
4 large parsnips (or 6 small parsnips), peeled
Heat a large saucepan with three tablespoons of the vegetable oil. When hot, season the beef all over, then brown evenly. When browned, remove and set aside, add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil to the same saucepan and brown the carrots, onion, celery, leek and garlic. When a deep-golden colour, add the tomato purée and mix well. Add the wine and simmer until it has reduced to a third. Add the beef, herbs, peppercorns, soya sauce, stock and salt to the pan and cover. Simmer very gently for 3-4 hours until tender. Remove the beef from the pan and cover. Strain the sauce into a clean pan and bring to the boil. Reduce until a sticky glaze. Cut the beef into 4-6 portions and place into a pan with the glaze to reheat.
For the bake, preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/Gas4. Place the wine, thyme and bay leaves into a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Reduce by two-thirds then add the cream, milk, honey, nutmeg and salt. Simmer very gently until the liquid has reduced by a quarter. Slice the parsnips thinly, lengthways, into strips. Layer with the milk mixture in a small loaf tin or terrine mould, pressing the parsnips down. Place on a baking tray or roasting dish and bake for 25-30 minutes until it has browned on top and a knife goes easily through the centre. Serve with the braised beef and a glass of full-bodied red wine.
Aromatic parsnip and honey soup with chestnut shavings
The caramelising of the honey in this soup gives it a great honeyed flavour without overpowering sweetness.
4 tbsp blossom honey
50g/2oz unsalted butter
5 large parsnips (or 7 small parsnips), peeled and finely chopped
Bouquet garni of 1/4 bunch thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 stick cinnamon (tied with string)
500ml/17fl oz chicken stock
500ml/17fl oz milk
50g/2oz cooked chestnuts
Heat the honey in a medium to large saucepan over a moderate heat until it begins to bubble and turn slightly golden. Add the butter, parsnip and bouquet garni (a bundle of herbs tied together with string), and turn the heat down slightly. Lightly brown the parsnip then add the stock and milk and simmer gently. When the parsnip is cooked entirely, remove the bouquet garni and blitz the parsnip mixture in a blender until smooth. Pass through a fine sieve, taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt if necessary. Reheat and pour into your serving bowls or glasses and, using a microplane or other fine grater, grate the chestnuts liberally over the top. Serve immediately.
Marcus Wareing on other interesting ways to use cranberries and parsnips...
Add dried cranberries and ground cinnamon to porridge for a great start to a miserable winter's day.
Substitute raisins with cranberries in any baking to add some acidity and cut through the sweetness.
Mix with nuts to add a little more festivity to your Christmas nut selection.
Use as an alternative to mashed potato. Cook the same way and add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg to the finished product to enhance the flavour.
Grate parsnips, season, squeeze all of the water out then fry in small batches to make crispy, sweet, rosti-like cakes.