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This is my favorite time of year.  Cold and snow make me long to be indoors in fuzzy socks, firing up the oven, and experimenting with recipes.  This Thanksgiving was my third as a vegan and I’m still trying to come up with vegan versions of old staples.  I did another green bean casserole this year and it ended up being meh which caused me to have a realization about green bean casserole: why am I trying to come up with a vegan version of something I never liked in the first place?  It’s true.  I love green beans and hate mushrooms.

It’s sounds almost sacrilegious to say I hate mushrooms.  They’re so healthy.  They’re a rare vegetable source of Vitamin D.  I don’t mind how they smell cooking but the texture makes me gag.  I’ve tried everything I could conceive to make myself like mushrooms and have to admit failure.  I used to pick the green beans out of my non-vegan mushroom casserole, leaving the mushrooms and mushroom soup behind.  I picked the green beans out of my vegan casserole, leaving the mushrooms and gravy behind.  Next year, I’m making awesome green beans: no mushrooms at all.

One recipe was a failure but another was a success.  I tried my hand at making cranberry relish and it was greeted with resounding applause.  Cranberry sauce has always been one of my favorites and it doesn’t matter if it’s canned or not; I’ll eat it.  Knowing I was going to make my own, I didn’t purchase the canned sauce this year and knew a momentary qualm.  What if my sauce didn’t turn out?  I’d end up with no cranberries at all.  Perish the thought.  My mom made sauce with the rest of the frozen cranberries and, certain that cranberry something would be on the table, I set about experimenting.

I’ve had a bottle of cherry wine, made here in Colorado!, since September.  I’ve been hoarding it in order to use it in experiments and I thought cranberry relish was a perfect time to crack the bottle open.  My original recipe called for fresh cranberries, dried cranberries, cranberry juice, lemon zest, and white sugar.  I used fresh cranberries, dried cherries as I didn’t have any dried cranberries, cherry wine, lemon zest, and agave nectar.

It is well worth making food from scratch.  Chilling a can of cranberry sauce and plopping it on a plate right before dinner can never compare to the sight and smell of cooking your own from scratch.  The bright cranberries and dark cherries were beautiful cooking together in the pot.  The cranberries pop as they cook so three of your senses are engaged.  Nothing canned can compare.

My Beautiful Relish

My Beautiful Relish

I was worried I hadn’t added enough sugar.  I’d done a substitution comparison of agave nectar for white sugar.  I should have put in 1/3 cup but I thought I’d err on the side of caution and put in 1/4 cup instead.  My original recipe said to cook the relish 20 to 25 minutes until the sauce thickened but my sauce cooked away; probably a result of using wine instead of juice.  I turned off my relish and let it cool before tasting.

It was amazing.  I tasted the tart cranberries first and they were very tart.  But, just as my mouth started to tell me the relish was too tart and I needed to stop eating it, the sweet cherries kicked in.  I thought the relish was wonderful and my family agreed.  My step-father said twice how much he liked it and I use him as a measuring stick for my recipes.  If he says he likes it without being asked and goes back for seconds, I know I have a winner.

I’ll definitely make the relish again and don’t think I’d add more agave nectar.  I would make it with the wine again but would add a bit of juice to keep a little sauce with it.  My mom and I mixed our sauces together and the extra liquid made the relish perfect.  I’ve got more cherry wine.  I’m planning to make more cranberry relish for Christmas but I’m thinking apples or pears braised in cherry wine with a little cinnamon and ginger will be my next experiment.  Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Cranberry/cherry relish

Cranberry/cherry relish

Cranberry Cherry Relish

1 (12 oz) bag fresh cranberries

1 cup sweetened dried cherries

1/2 cup cherry wine*

2/3 cup sugar **

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.  Set aside to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a bowl to serve warm.  If serving chilled, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until needed.  Properly stored, this relish will keep for 3 to 4 days (assuming it lasts that long!)

*Perhaps a little more wine should be used or a mix of wine and juice

**I used 1/4 cup agave nectar instead of white sugar but I find it sweet-use as little or as much as you like!