Cran it!

If the only cranberries you're planning to eat on Thanksgiving come sliding out of a can, read on. The gorgeous (and healthy!) little berries have versatility beyond their slippery gelatinous form. So put that can back on the shelf, because we've found six extraordinary cranberry creations.

Get saucy
When Grant Achatz of Alinea starts tossing cranberries around, you can bet they won't end up in a muffin. Chicago's hottest chef creates a cranberry emulsion, or thickened sauce, to help balance the rich flavor of a Kobe beef short rib. Precise dollops of cranberry sit alongside the beef, which is covered with a ruby-colored sheet made from beets blended with Campari, an Italian aperitif, and garnished with sprigs of fennel and a gold-colored roasted baby beet. Culinary genius comes at a premium, however: Alinea's 12-course and 24-course prix-fixe menus, which both include the dish, will cost you $125 and $175, respectively.

Wrap it up
If a night at Alinea would mean no one on your Christmas list is gets a present this year, head to Treat for something a little more economical but every bit as creative. From his brightly colored Humboldt Park eatery, Tamiz Haiderali fills wontons with a smooth blend of cranberries, butternut squash and frangipane, an almond-flavored pastry cream. The delectable desserts arrive in a bright red, basil-infused cranberry soup ($6.95). Can't get enough cran? Try Haiderali's chicken breast stuffed with cranberries, spinach, walnuts and goat cheese ($16.95).

Drink 'em for breakfast
Cranberry juice with breakfast is OK, but cranberry juice and champagne with breakfast? Divine. Ina's mixes up a Cranpari ($7.50), made with brut Champagne, cranberry juice and pear nectar, the cranberry adding a touch of tang to the warmth of the pear. The drink's sweet fizz perfectly complements one of Ina's savory breakfasts. Our favorites are Amy's Omelet: three fluffy eggs stuffed with tender asparagus, chunks of brie cheese and organic chicken sausage ($9.79), and the open-face smoked salmon omelet with sour cream, capers, tomatoes and a bagel ($9.79).

Treat your feet
Farmers wade through cranberry bogs to harvest our holiday berries, but if your style is a little less mud and a lot more luxury, try a cranberry pedicure ($65) at Channing's Day Spa . They'll soak your feet in cranberry extract and Dead Sea salts, and exfoliate with a cranberry foot scrub. Then, you'll absorb the sweet smell of cranberry lotion during a decadent foot and leg massage. When it's all over you'll smell as delicious as a cranberry tart.

Lather up
For cran that'll never see a can, make a trip to the West Loop's Abbey Brown Soap Artisans. The new shop sells an olive-oil based cranberry soap ($5.50) made on site with locally produced ingredients: moisturizing cranberry and apricot oils, spice and cranberry essence. You can also find Abbey Brown soaps at Chicago's Green City Winter Market, which runs through Dec. 23. at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (Market closed Nov. 25 and 29.)

Toast the season
For all their joy, the holidays have been known to cause a wee bit of stress. Cranberry wine can help. Michigan's Round Barn Winery blends fresh cranberry juice with a white wine for a cool mingling of sweet and tart flavors. Roselle's Lynfred Winery crushes and ferments cranberries to make its wine, a deep red, not-too-sweet, dangerously delicious concoction. Both wines are available for $9.99 at Sam's Wine and Spirits .

Leah Fabel is a metromix special contributor. metromix@tribune.com

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