Thanksgiving Files: Cranberries Everywhere

There is one item I cannot be without at Thanksgiving and that is cranberries.  A few years ago I started making my own relish and that has only made my dedication to the little red berry more intense.  And it must have been a good year for cranberries because they are inexpensive right now.  I have 5 bags in my freezer and two more to cook with this week.  A little bit of cranberry heaven.

As a general rule, I like them pretty basic – berries, eyeball some orange juice and add sugar until I think it’s sweet enough, simmer until it’s reduced by 1/2 or more.  I have found, and I don’t think it is my imagination, that the mixture gets more tart as it sits, so by the next day I’m adding more sugar.  Eventually I’ll remember this and add enough sugar so it is just beyond the sweetness I like and then it should be perfect.

This year, in addition to my basic recipe, I tried two different recipes, to shake things up.  The first is upping the orange flavor considerably:

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

  • 16 oz bag of fresh cranberries, washed
  • 1 orange, juice only
  • 1 orange, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • Orange zest from 1 orange, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat and simmer until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes or more in the refrigerator.

The next one was interesting.  The apple really becomes the dominate flavor in this, so if you’re a die-hard cranberry fan, make this one in addition to a regular cranberry relish.  It’s definitely tasty, but I would miss my true cranberry relish if I served only it.

Cinnamon Apple Cranberry Sauce

  • 16 oz bag fresh cranberries, washed
  • 1/2 cup apple juice or water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Gala apples, peeled, cored and diced

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add ingredients. Bring to a light boil, as soon as cranberries start popping, reduce heat to medium and let simmer until reduced by half or more to a thick sauce and apples are very tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more.

Cranberry Palooza isn’t over yet.  Later I’ll repost my favorite dessert, the one I’ll be bringing this year, Cranberry Upside Down Cake.  And those frozen cranberries are going to be turned into some Cranberry Apple Cobbler and maybe added to some chicken.  It’s only the beginning.  Until then…

Thanksgiving Files: Heavenly Biscuits

JeffW's awesome biscuit photo. So beautiful I wouldn't even try to compete with my own pix.

JeffreyW posted some awesome pictures the other day of his adventures in biscuits.  They looked better than any I’d ever made so I asked him for the recipe.  He sent me to JP’s Big Daddy Biscuits.  Last night I decided to give it a try.  I tweaked the original recipe just a bit.

These were the best biscuits I’ve ever made and easily good enough for a Thanksgiving table.  Big, fluffy and moist, they easily compete with any biscuit I’ve had, even at my favorite restaurant Lucille’s.

Here’s my version:

JP’s Big Daddy Biscuits, revised:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter (this really gives them a buttery flavor)
  • 1 cup buttermilk – (I use 4 tbsp buttermilk powder to 1 cup water)m

mixing bowl, baking sheet or cast iron skillet (I’m sure you know what I used).

In mixing bowl whisk together dry ingredients.  Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.  Gradually add milk.  Mix together until dough pulls away from sides of the bowl.  I had to add additional flour, this is a very moist dough.  Turn out onto well floured surface and knead 10-15 times.  I couldn’t roll this dough out it was too moist.  I just flattened it by hand (about an inch thick, maybe a little less) and cut out the biscuits.  With the extra flour I came up with 7 very large biscuits.
Bake at 425 degrees for 13-15 minutes, until golden brown.  Put your oven rack in the middle to keep them from browning too much on the bottom.
Thanks Jeff for finding the recipe.  I can’t imagine I’ll use any other.

Thanksgiving Files: Sweet Potatoes

I have a confession. I hate traditional Thanksgiving  candied sweet potatoes. I can’t pass them fast enough away from me at the holiday table. I thought I hated sweet potatoes because I assumed that they always tasted that sweet and gooey. Then I stumbled across a few savory sweet potato recipes that really let the flavor of the potato shine and my opinion quickly changed.

So in honor of the poor sweet potato covered in marshmallow goo (and I mean no offense anyone who looks forward to candied sweet potatoes every year!) I offer two savory recipes and one semi-sweet recipe. In case you want to try something a little different this Thanksgiving.

Each serves 4, but you can easily multiple the ingredients for your crowd.

African Sweet Potato Salad

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes – precooked*
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 1 stalk celery chopped

Large glass or plastic bowl

Slip skins off potatoes and cube. In bowl mix oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper, add potatoes, onion, celery and toss. Refrigerate until serving.

You’ll want to steam these, you can halve them and leave the skins on, they’ll slip off when cooled. You don’t want to boil sweet potatoes, it leaves them watery and they lose their creamy texture.

Cajun Sweet Potatoes

  • 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter,  melted
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • ¼ tsp cumin (opt)

Covered casserole dish, well-greased

Steamer and saucepan

In saucepan, add water, steamer and sweet potatoes. Steam until you can easily stick a fork in them. They don’t need to be completely soft. About 10-15 minutes. Add sweet potatoes to casserole dish. Combine oil, butter and spices. Pour evenly over potatoes. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes until potatoes are soft. You can adjust cooking time if you prefer your firmer or softer potatoes.

Sweet Potatoes w/Apples

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 apples, cored & sliced
  • 8 oz can sliced pineapple (including liquid)
  • 2 tsp butter
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt

2 qt casserole dish, greased

Add ingredients to casserole dish. Stir gently and bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes, uncovered, until apples and potatoes are very soft. Cover if it begins to brown too much.

Thanksgiving Fast Approaching

Unbelievably,  Thanksgiving is soon to be here.  By far my favorite holiday, second only to 4th of July. I think this year I’m going to wade in to the ‘how best to cook a turkey’ debate.  It can get dicey.  But we’ll approach it from a novice viewpoint.  I want you to be successful on Thanksgiving Day, even if you’ve never cooked a turkey before.  Those with more experience may prefer a more traditional bird, but we’ll get into that next week.

I’m also going to look at some non-traditional sides in case you are feeling adventurous this year.

To get you started, you can look through our archives from previous Thanksgivings.  Just click on the word Thanksgiving in the category cloud over there on your right.  Down, down… there it is, see it?

There you can see some great ideas and don’t miss JeffW’s Thanksgiving Turducken.  He goes there to blaze the trail for us who have always wondered.

JeffreyW's 2010 Turducken

Last year I had my very first deep fried turkey and it was really good.  I’ll be out of town this Thanksgiving, so I’m kinda hoping for another fried bird.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’m pulling together recipes to share. Until then…


Catching Up

I’ve been a terrible blogger these past weeks and I beg your forgiveness and your patience.  I’ll be travelling again this week, so blogging will be light.  But once I return, I’ll get back up to speed.  I haven’t been much in the mood for cooking these days, but today I got a great idea, so I may have some new inspirations in the weeks to come.

The Thanksgiving feast was wonderful.  My brother and SIL injected a fresh turkey with lemon and butter, then deep fried it. It was a great bird.  We topped it off with the usuals: green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing.  Lots of different pies and fudge finished off the meal.

For lunches this week I’ve made a cream of chicken soup – a recipe I want to work on a couple more times before I post it – and Spicy Beef and Barley Soup, which I’ve changed up just a bit.  I had purchased a large quantity of fresh ground beef and decided to use that instead of stew beef and I thought fennel would be a nice addition.  Made a very tasty soup and since it will snow tonight, a welcome lunch at work tomorrow.

How was your Thanksgiving holiday?  Besides JeffW’s turducken, anyone have anything unusually tasty at your holiday meal?

Giving Thanks

My billboard still reminds me to give thanks, so I thought I’d take a moment a do just that.  I have so many things to be grateful for these days I’m not even sure where to begin.  But I’ll begin here and tell you how thankful I am for our readers, both the lurkers and those who comment frequently.  Next up for thanks are my front page bloggers, I am so grateful for all they contribute,  they make this blog what I always wanted it to be, a variety of voices sharing their cooking/life experiences.  Thanks to John Cole for front paging our menus once a week at Balloon-Juice, because that launched all the rest.

Speaking of Mr. Cole, don’t forget if you’re looking for the perfect gift, you can find it at the Balloon-Juice store and the proceeds go to help homeless animals in need.   Here’s one of my favorite items:

Have a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving and even if you don’t have your very own billboard to remind you, give thanks for loved ones, both the bipeds and the quadpeds, in your life.   Peace.

Thanksgiving Table: Squash Soup

Need to keep everyone out of the kitchen while you finish up dinner prep?  Set up a buffet table with a raw vegetable tray and dip, a bowl of nuts (in their shells) along with a couple of nutcrackers and this soup in a slowcooker to keep it warm and that should keep your guests occupied while you cook.

Winter Squash Soup

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3-1/4 pounds butternut or acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into large pieces
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 carrot, quartered
  • 1 celery stalk, quartered
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 4 cups chicken broth*
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Chopped chives (for garnish)

Large sauce pan

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the squash, onions, carrot, celery and garlic; sauté until slightly softened, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth, apple juice, thyme and sage. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from stove. Puree the vegetables until smooth with a hand blender or in batches in the food processor or blender. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if desired.

***Soup can be made to this point 1 day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.***

Return soup to pot and bring to a simmer. Add the sherry and simmer about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream, sour cream and nutmeg until well combined. Place soup into large soup tureen and garnish with chives. Place on appetizer table with small bowls & spoons and let everyone help themselves.

*or substitute 4 cups water and 4 tsp (4 cubes) chicken bouillon.