Thirty years ago, my then newlywed parents adopted Thanksgiving as their holiday to host. The blissfully ingenuous pair, along with seasoned sous chef Nana Noonan, undertook a feast for a family of 20.
The meal, an 18-pounder with Challah stuffing, butternut squash bake, creamed pearl onions, Grammie Barreira’s famous mashed potatoes and even the can of jellied cranberry sauce (presented on a silver platter with matching serving utensil) was a hit. It was so good in fact, that the hosts and the menu were penned in as the official bearers of Thanksgiving dinner.
Over the years, any suggestion to change location or its offering was squashed by an angry mob of relations. That is, until the heir to the Thanksgiving Day throne enrolled in culinary school and set out to ruffle the feathers of tradition.
It wasn’t easy. I pitched a handful of recipe ideas to my mom before a fresh cranberry sauce, inspired by an episode of Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello, was approved. And still, the matrons of Thanksgiving watched with hawk-like intrigue as I squeezed orange juice into the pot, then skepticism (tinged with horror) as I measured out the Dijon mustard.
The family’s reaction was equally incredulous as they passed through the buffet line en-route to the dining room. “What’s this?” asked a curious uncle. “Oh, that sounds interesting,” said an optimistic Grammie (who arrived at the table with a thimbleful of the sauce on her plate) countered by my Aunt, who wondered out loud if Katie had made it “all by herself?” Luckily, the dish was well received, (especially by the hungry uncles) but there was still a silver-plated roll of cranberry jello on the table, for those who just couldn’t let go…I ate a thick slice.
The success of that cranberry sauce opened the door for a new tradition of one culinary innovation per season. This year, while my idea for “A Very Jamaican Thanksgiving” was shot down, I got the green light for a deep-fried turkey and had the tank-sized fryer shipped home last week. I’m not sure whether the reality of a stuffingless bird has dawned on the T-day committee, so I will not be surprised (or offended) if there is a Challah stuffed centerpiece roasting in the in oven on Thanksgiving Day.
Honey-Mustard Cranberry Sauce
Serves 10 to 12
Grated peel and juice of 1 orange
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup honey
2 pounds fresh or frozen whole cranberries
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium pot, combine the orange juice, grated peel, water, sugar and honey and bring to a boil, stirring. Add the cranberries and simmer over medium heat until the cranberries begin to burst, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in mustard and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.
Tip: Cranberries begin to toughen after they burst. To avoid overcooking, remove from heat as soon as the first berries begin to pop.
Jellied Cranberry Glaze
Makes enough glaze to serve 4
In case you’ve already purchased canned cranberry sauce for the occasion, here’s a great way to use it up! Brush on bbq’d chicken, roasted pork chops or baby back ribs 2 or 3 times during cooking, for a sweet and tangy glaze.
1 can jellied cranberry sauce
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar
In a medium saucepan, melt cranberry sauce into water over medium-high heat. Whisk in teriyaki, ginger and brown sugar; lower heat and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Use to baste meats or as a glaze for broiled salmon.
Edible Cranberry Ornaments
Makes about 6 cups
Fresh cranberries are only in season for a few months, so make these timely jewels a part of your Thanksgiving table. A package of these glittering orbs will make a charming and impressive place setting that your guests can take with them.
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups water
4 cups fresh whole cranberries
1 to 2 cups sanding sugar (coarse sugar)
Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour hot syrup over cranberries, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight. Strain cranberries and, working in batches, toss with sanding sugar to coat. Spread sugared berries on a parchment-lined sheet and let sit, uncovered, at room temperature until set, 1 to 2 hours.
Makes about 2 cups
The perfect condiment for those post T-day gobbler sandwiches.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
12 ounces fresh or frozen whole cranberries
¾ cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1/3 cup white distilled vinegar
¼ teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon ground yellow mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté onions until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cranberries, brown sugar, vinegar, celery seeds and ground mustard and simmer until cranberries burst. Allow to cool slightly, then puree in blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Store refrigerated in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
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