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Fresh cranberries are harvested in the fall, beginning in September and reaching the market in early October. They are quite tart and are usually mixed with sweeter fruits or sugar before cooking. This makes for a wonderful balance in chutneys, sauces, stuffings and such.
Look for cranberries packaged in plastic, as they keep well when refrigerated and tightly sealed. Fresh berries should not be wrinkled or soft. Because the ripe berries have a little air inside, you will know they are fresh if they bounce. Don't buy them if they are the least bit soft. If you are going to keep them for more than a few weeks go on and put them in the freezer in a zipper bag.
Frozen cranberries make a reasonably good substitute for fresh and you shouldn't hesitate to use them. Thaw them in the fridge in a strainer over a bowl so that any excess water will drain away.
My Shiitaki and Cranberry Stuffed Pork Loin recipe calls for dried cranberries. Be careful because most dried cranberries have been sweetened with sugar - usually a fair amount. A third of a cup of dried cranberries is 120 calories where a cup of fresh is only 45 calories. This means that the 1/3 cup of dried fruit has about 4 teaspoons of sugar.
The added sweetness does change their character. They are usually as sweet as they are tart and you won't need to add as much sweetener to a chutney or stuffing when using dried cranberries. I like to use them because they add a chewy texture that fresh cranberries don't.
1/3 cup dried cranberries = 120 calories, 0g fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, 0g protein, 29g carbohydrates, 0mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol
1 cup fresh cranberries = 47 calories, 0g fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, 0g protein, 12g carbohydrates, 0mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol