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Spiced Cranberry Sauce

The brilliance of cranberry sauce is uncanny.

Of course, cranberries are something we take for granted. Practically inedible in their unaltered state, cranberries are most often known in their dried and juiced forms, both of which are typically sweetened.

But cooked cranberries, whether in cakes or pies or sauces, are a marvel at balancing the flavors of a meal. They cut right through rich flavors, providing a pucker-inducing foil to the heavy dishes featured at holiday meals.

I distinctly remember the notorious can-shaped cranberry sauce that my mother served alongside her incredible salmon cakes when I was a kid. Balk if you will, ladies and gentlemen, but that cranberry sauce was just fine, more of a condiment than a side dish. These days, I favor a more wholesome (and whole) cranberry sauce. I like the texture and the flavor better, not to mention the ease with which I can add my own touch.

It's hard to add your special touch to a cylindrical blob of jelly.

I usually like adding something savory to cranberry sauce, making it more like a chutney. Whole grain mustard is lovely, as is horseradish. I imagine that you could go really chutneyesque with your cranberry sauce, adding onions and such, but I don't do raw onions, and I admit to being prejudiced against them in this particular application.

This year's cranberry sauce was Asian-influenced. With fresh ginger and lemongrass to add piquancy, and five-spice powder for richness, we think it's mighty fine.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Serves 8 to 10

In a medium saucepan, combine over medium-high heat:
            2 cups sugar
            2 cups water
Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Boil the syrup for 5 minutes. Add:
            1 pound cranberries (about 4 cups)
Simmer the berries in the syrup very gently, uncovered, without stirring, until the berries are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop very finely in a food processor:
            One 4-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into coins
            4 lemongrass stalks, tender parts only
            2 tablespoons water
Place a clean, linen kitchen towel or piece of butter muslin over a measuring cup and strain the minced ginger and lemongrass, squeezing to extract all the juice. You should have about 1/4 cup liquid. Add this liquid to the cooked cranberries along with:
            1 teaspoon five-spice powder (made with equal parts ground cinnamon, fennel seeds,
            star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, and cloves)

Stir to combine. Pour the cranberries into a serving dish and refrigerate until chilled throughout, at least 4 hours and up to a week.

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Heat almost to a simmer:
        2 cups heavy cream
Stir with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl just until blended:
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