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The end of an era: My recipes demonstrate how small touches can make a big difference in your cooking, dining experience

During the almost 18 years I've had the pleasure of writing my "Wolfgang Puck's Kitchen" column, one theme has recurred again and again, regardless of the ingredients, the preparation, the season or the occasion. What I've always tried to convey through my advice and recipes is the fact that great cooking doesn't necessarily rely on dazzling techniques or expensive products, but rather on understanding and employing the sorts of simple yet profound extra touches that can elevate anybody's cooking from ordinary to extraordinary.

Such touches are many and varied. Imagine, for example, the difference that seasoned butter makes stuffed under the skin of a soon-to-be-roasted turkey, yielding moister, more flavorful meat and browner, crispier skin. Or think of how a dollop of bottled Chinese hoisin can add richness and complexity to the sauce for a quick western-style saute, replacing the laboriously simmered French demi-glace of classic kitchens. Or consider how a garnish of herbs and spices, a drizzle of quickly prepared fresh fruit sauce or a scattering of perfectly roasted nuts can delight the eyes as well as the taste buds.

With that thought in mind, I would like to share a pair of quickly prepared recipes that have the power to contribute something extra wonderful to your holiday table, whether you employ them for Christmas dinner or reserve them for your New Year's menu.

My sun-dried cherry pinot noir sauce makes a perfect grace note for any holiday roast, complementing turkey, ham, beef and chicken alike. The longest step in the preparation, soaking the cherries for at least an hour, requires no work from you; and the active prep and cooking time takes little more than half an hour. Yet, the resulting sauce abounds in festive flavors, delighting guests with every taste.

Alternatively, I also suggest you try my recipe for cranberry ketchup. You can proudly serve the cold, thick condiment not only at your holiday dinner table but also use it over the following few days to add tart-sweet flavor to leftovers for cold-cut plates or sandwiches.

I share these recipes with you wholeheartedly as I also regretfully bring this column to a close. The past 18 years of writing it have been a rewarding experience for me, during which I've been continually touched by the many people who have written to me, visited my restaurants or approached me in person to tell me how much the column means to them.

You'll still find me and my recipes elsewhere, of course, including in my restaurants, via my appearances on Home Shopping Network and in forthcoming new online, print and video projects. I look forward to sharing the pleasures of the kitchen and the table with you for many more years to come.


Makes about 3 cups (750 mL)

1 cup (250 mL) sun-dried cherries

1/2 cup (125 mL) orange juice

1/2 cup (125 mL) port wine

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock or good-quality canned chicken broth

1 cup (250 mL) pinot noir

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons bottled Chinese hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Put the sun-dried cherries in a nonreactive bowl. Add the orange juice and port. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the cherries have plumped up, at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the shallot and saute until tender but not yet browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the stock, pinot noir and thyme. Raise the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and continue boiling until the liquid has reduced by half its volume, about 15 minutes. Stir in the hoisin.

Add the plumped cherries and their liquid to the pan. Bring the liquid back to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a brisk simmer, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid turns slightly syrupy, 7 to 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low. Cut the butter into three pieces and whisk in the butter a piece at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep the sauce warm over very low heat until ready to serve.


Makes about 3 cups (750 mL)

2 pounds (1 kg) fresh whole cranberries, rinsed, or frozen whole cranberries

1 small yellow onion, diced, about 4 ounces (125 g)

1 cup (250 mL) cider vinegar

1/2 cup (125 mL) plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

Zest of 2 medium oranges, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons pickling spice

In a medium-sized stainless-steel or enamel saucepan, combine the cranberries, onion, vinegar, sugar, orange zest, garlic, salt and pickling spice. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick and looks almost smooth, 25 to 30 minutes.

(As little liquid is used in the recipe, keep a close eye on the mixture, stir and scrape carefully from the bottom, and adjust the heat even lower, if possible, to avoid scorching.)

Pass the mixture through a hand-turned food mill set over a nonreactive mixing bowl, discarding any residue left behind in the mill. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate until serving time. Leftover ketchup will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.


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