So, Thanksgiving is coming. This year I’m thankful that my family hasn’t wrapped me in a wool blanket and beaten me with socks filled with soap bars. It seems like they want to, though. They don’t say it, but I can see it in their eyes. There’s definitely an old-fashioned “Blanket Party” in my future if I keep going the way that I’ve been. Between trying to finish up the formal dining room reno that I began a month ago and trying to maintain the rest of my responsibilities- I’ve been a witch. And you and I both know I don’t mean “witch”; I’m just trying to keep this as PG as possible. So, it finally dawned on me (last week) that Thanksgiving was this week- stellar food blogger that I am. Clearly that meant my Boozy Spiced Cranberry Sauce was on the menu but what else?
“Hey!! Youse guys get in here so we can figure out the Thanksgiving menu!!!!”
“We gotta have:
- Turkey (duh!)
- Roasted Pork Shoulder (we are Puerto Rican, after all)
- Collard Greens (we are Black, after all)
- Mac and Cheese (we are greedy, after all)
- Cranberry Sauce
- Pumpkin Cheesecake
“Is that it? Because I ain’t making nothing that’s not on the list!”
“Why are you being so ‘Drill Sergeant-y’?”
“Because I do ALL the cooking and I ask for help making a menu and hardly ever get ideas! You think other moms ask for menu suggestions?!”
“No, dear, they probably don’t.”
“That, ‘Dear,’ sounded facetious. Are you sassing me? Because I can totally make ramen noodles for Thanksgiving.”
“As if. You feel shame just standing in front of ramen noodles at the grocery store.”
“You’re right, but that’s not the point. Do other moms ask for input?”
“No, Mom, they don’t.”
“You’re darn skippy they don’t, so you’d better get hot if you want a good Thanksgiving! I don’t have time to play.”
“Okay we also want:
- Pasteles (kind of like tamales, but not)
- Rice with Pigeon Peas (because who cares about carbs?)
- Cornbread Stuffing
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Bourbon Pecan Pie (I cook with a lot of booze)
- Apple Pie
- Meat and Cheese Appetizer
- Coconut Eggnog
- Apple Cider
“My, my, my! Look at how much longer the list gets when Mom starts getting crazy.”
So, that, in a nutshell, is how the Rivera family compiles their Thanksgiving menu. We all need therapy; I’m fully aware of that.
The way I manage large holiday, or party, meals is to break them down and cook over a period of days. For Thanksgiving, items like this cranberry sauce are prepared first because they actually get better with time. The flavors have ample time to marry and deepen, and they’re a quick recipe to prepare. I make it at least four days before, jar it, and store it in the fridge until Turkey Day.
As with your daily dishes, prep work is your friend when cooking large holiday meals. Since this cranberry sauce is flavored with orange juice, I also remove about four inches of the orange’s rind to throw into the mix. After slicing your orange in half, use your knife to peel the skin off, avoiding as much of the bitter pith (white part) as possible. Using a vegetable peeler may help with this.
Now, juice two oranges and reserve the juice for cooking the cranberries. I used to rely solely on water to make my cranberry sauce, but then it dawned on me, “Since I love cran-orange everything else, why not use orange juice instead?” So I did. And, as a result, I realized that I am, in fact, a genius touched by the hand of God. Hold the applause, we have work to do. So, juice your two oranges and get ready to get lit! No, we’re not getting “lit”. We’re good, decent, upstanding citizens…
…who like to drink a little.
Don’t worry! This cranberry sauce is perfectly safe for everyone in your crew. Well, unless they’re allergic to one of the ingredients, then it’s not safe. But, since the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, you need not fear that you’ll create lushes of your children. Grab the bourbon like you’re going to take a big ol’ swig and drown away your sorrows…and pour it into the measuring cup. We need 3/4’s of a cup. Set. It. Aside. WITHOUT DRINKING ANY. Okay, just a little…bit..more.
We keep messing around with this bourbon and we’re going to need a nap. No drinking and cutting. I’m not responsible if you slice of a finger because you can’t hold your liquor.
Carefully, slice your fresh ginger in 1/4″ coins. No need to peel the ginger, just rinse it off well. We’re going to remove the spices just prior to serving anyway.
Now that all of the prep work is done, we can make the cranberry sauce. Add the rinsed cranberries (fresh or frozen, it doesn’t matter) to your pot.
Also add the dark brown sugar. You may also use honey, maple syrup, or granulated sugar. I prefer dark brown because it give the final cranberry sauce a caramel-y flavor that is to die for.
Add the ginger coins, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, and the rosemary. Don’t worry about de-stemming the rosemary. Leaving it on the stem makes it easier to fish out when we’re ready to serve.
Before adding the vanilla bean, split the bean down the middle, lengthwise. You don’t need to cut it in half completely, you just need to get through the top layer of the pod. Once you have split it open, turn your paring knife to the back (blunt side) and, holding one end of the bean firmly under your index finger, draw the knife down the length of the bean to extract the paste of seeds.
Again, I’m a practical woman, so I realize that with a stock market price of $200 per kilo, pure vanilla beans are getting to be obscenely expensive. If you don’t have any on hand, or don’t have a kidney you’re willing to sell to get one, just use vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.
Put the seeds you scraped out of the pod and the pod, itself, into the pot. Hell, if we gotta take out another mortgage to buy them we’re going to extract every bit of its essence to feel good about it.
Now, add the orange juice and the tbsp of bourbon.
Oh! I meant the 3/4’s cup of bourbon. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention, is all.
Stare at how pretty it all is, then bring the cranberry sauce to a boil. Once you hear the little lovelies start to pop, you’re ready for the next step.
Carefully, press the cranberries with the back of your spoon to accelerate the release of the cranberries’ natural pectin. Used exclusively in the preparation of jams and jellies, pectin is a thickener that provides body and substance to normally runny food items. Cranberry has pectin built in so the smushing (highly advance culinary term, that is) of the cranberries, helps to thicken the sauce. Don’t go wild smashing the berries, though, because part of the aesthetic of a bowl of cranberry sauce is seeing those whole berries winking at you from afar. Luring you in to do scandalous things and have your way with them.
I don’t really know what we’re talking about anymore.
Oh, yeah! Cranberry sauce! Once it’s finished cooking, your cranberry sauce should be reduced in volume and as thick as porridge. Or oatmeal, rather. Who eats porridge anymore? This isn’t Oliver Twist.
So, now we have dish number one ready for our special day! Tomorrow, we’re going to marinate our pork shoulder and turkey. Pin the recipe and share with your friends and family. Also, be sure to stay tuned as we go through the rest of the prep for our Thanksgiving Day feast!
Boozy Cranberry Sauce
Yield 2 1/2 cups
Use fresh or frozen cranberries in this quick accompaniment for Thanksgiving dinner.
2 12 oz bags fresh (or frozen) cranberries, washed and picked through
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar*
1" piece of ginger, unpeeled and sliced into 1/4" thick coins
3 cinnamon sticks (or 1 tbsp ground cinnamon)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (omit if you're not using cinnamon sticks)
1 3" sprig fresh rosemary
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract)
pinch of kosher salt
4" piece of orange rind
1 1/2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup bourbon
- In a medium saucepan, add the cranberries, sugar, ginger coins, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, rosemary sprig, vanilla bean seeds and pod, salt, and orange rind.
- Add the orange juice and bourbon to the items in the pot. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Once you start to hear the berries burst, use the back of a large wooden spoon to gently smash some of the berry mixture. Do not smash all of the berries, leave some whole.
- Continue cooking for 10 minutes, or until the cranberry sauce is moderately thick. It should have the consistency of oatmeal.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a glass or plastic storage container. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Just before serving, remove the whole spices and spoon into a serving bowl. Enjoy!
- maple syrup, granulated sugar, or honey may be substituted for the brown sugar.
Check out these other recipes to get you in the “Turkey Day” state of mind: