Cranberries: winning recipes for all courses

Wisconsin farmers harvested about 4.5 million barrels of cranberries this year, which makes us the nation’s leading producer of the berry for 18 consecutive years.

Once a year, during the last weekend in September, little Warrens – population 350, in Monroe County – presents a festival that is the largest of its kind.

No other community in the world cooks with cranberries like Warrens, and that means more than 100,000 visitors tour bogs, enter contests, sample cranberries in all courses and shop a mile-long market of arts, crafts, food and antiques. From parade marching bands to cranberry pancake breakfasts, nobody throws a party with quite as much verve or charm.

Now it’s almost Thanksgiving, and we’re adding cranberries to holiday menus, sometimes in surprising ways. That’s where Warrens comes in again: The festival’s annual recipe contest rewards creative cooks in two categories: fresh and processed cranberries. Prizes are based upon taste, creativity, appearance and ease of production.

Judging this year’s contest was a delight. The finalists’ recipes were sent to me a few days before the festival began, and I was fully braced to not like what turned out to be a big winner in the processed cranberry category.

This version of lasagne, by David Harper of Richland Center, is not sweet, and the berries add subtle depth to the entree’s taste profile.

(Serves 10-12)

12-16 no-boil, oven-ready lasagna noodles

For cheese layer:
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
2/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped

For meat sauce:
2 teaspoons, plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
64 ounces spaghetti sauce
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients for cheese layer (but use only 1 cup of mozzarella). Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.

Pour 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven (preferred) over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pork and ground beef; cook until browned. If you prefer, drain off excess fat. Add salt, pepper, spaghetti sauce, 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning, 3 tablespoons olive oil and cranberries. Simmer 5 minutes; remove from heat.

Spray a 9×13 baking pan with nonstick spray. Spread 1 cup of meat sauce in bottom of pan. Cover sauce with 3 or 4 lasagna noodles. Spread ½ cup ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle 1 cup mozzarella cheese over ricotta. Cover cheese with 1½ cups meat sauce.

Add a second layer of noodles. Repeat the ricotta, mozzarella and meat sauce layers. Add a third layer of noodles. Cover with remaining ricotta mix, 1 cup mozzarella and 2 cups of sauce.

Add remaining 1 cup of mozzarella. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup of parmesan cheese. Sprinkle remaining 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning over the top.

Spray a large piece of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and cover the lasagna. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Note: You will have about 2 cups of sauce left over after lasagna is layered. Sauce can be served on the side or saved, to be used for other pasta dishes.

The winner in the fresh cranberry category was this creative dessert submitted by Shirley Johnson of Warrens. It is an interesting mix of textures and tastes.

(Serves 8)

9-inch pie crust
1 ¼ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup (2 ounces) macadamia nuts, pieces or chopped
¼ cup flaked coconut
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup orange marmalade
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brandy
½ cup crushed pineapple, well drained

For topping:
1 ½ cups whipped topping
½ teaspoon brandy
dash of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Press crust into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges.

Rinse cranberries under cold water and drain. Cut berries in half. Arrange cranberries on bottom of crust; cover with chopped nuts and coconut.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, brown sugar, marmalade, flour and brandy. Stir in drained pineapple. Pour over cranberry mixture.

Place a cookie sheet in oven and set tart pan on sheet. Bake 50-55 minutes, until browned and center is set. Cool completely on rack and remove pan. Refrigerate until serving.

Blend topping ingredients. Serve with tart and garnish, if desired.

For additional winning recipes, go to and click on “about the festival,” then “contests.” The 2013 festival is Sept. 27-29.

My judging companions at the Warrens Cranberry Festival were Mad Dog and Merrill of New London. The Midwest grillin’ gurus host radio and TV shows, are cookbook authors, sell a line of barbecue sauces/seasonings and are all-around good guys.

For more about them and their products:, 920-982-0912. The duo’s work began more than 30 years ago.

For more about the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center, 204 Main St., Warrens:, 608-378-4878. In the gift shop is a wide range of cranberry products, salsas to juices, mustards to candy.