Full disclosure: I havent cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner since a month after moving into my very first house – in 2000. I had spent the Thanksgiving before with my best friend (a renowned non-cook) in Baltimore and made fun of her for forgetting to remove the bag of turkey giblets before putting it in the oven. That day, I was in charge of following a recipe she cut out of a magazine for apple cranberry sauce. Just a few ingredients, easy to make, and it was delicious warm with dinner and even better cold as next-day leftovers.
When I hosted my very own first Thanksgiving the following year, the apple cranberry sauce was the recipe I chose first but tweaked it just a little. I wanted to impress my mom, whos a great cook, with my expertise and gourmet spin on the traditional fixings. She had always made the cold cranberry relish with ground up cranberries, oranges and walnuts – we were the only two in the family that even LIKED cranberries. Along with the cooked apple cranberry sauce, I conjured up cornbread and sausage stuffing, make-ahead slow cooker mashed potatoes, mashed bourbon sweet potatoes and a moist, perfectly-cooked turkey in an oven bag! I was only slightly offended that my mom had insisted on bringing along traditional sage stuffing and normal mashed potatoes just because. Ironically, I, too, forgot to remove the bag of giblets. Sigh.
Fast forward 13 years and Ive worked in retail for the past 11 of them. Ive pretty much been a Thanksgiving guest or settled for a cold turkey sandwich on the go. I havent attempted a full turkey dinner since, but I do happily offer to bring along a side dish or dessert when I stop by some good friends home to eat and run. Here are my versions of a few favorite bring-alongs!
Apple Cranberry Sauce
12 oz. package of fresh cranberries
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 1/2 c. apple cider or water
1 1/4 c. brown sugar (can also use a mixture of white and brown sugars)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
Sort and rinse the cranberries – remove any soft or unripe ones and stems. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce to medium-low and simmer until apples have softened and the cranberries have popped, about 15-20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving. Can be made and refrigerated ahead of time, then brought to room temperature.
Pumpkin Spice Gingerbread
3 c. sugar (can use combination of brown and white sugars)
1 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. apple cider or water
15 oz. can pumpkin puree
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
3 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Combine sugar, oil, eggs and cider or water in large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Blend in pumpkin and spices.
In a separate bowl, lightly combine the flour, soda and baking powder.
Add the dry mix to the pumpkin mixture a little at a time, just until moistened.
Divide batter and pour into two lightly greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.
Sprinkle a little bit of raw sugar or brown sugar on top and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let sit in pan until slightly cool, then pop out and finish cooling on a rack.
Sweet & Spicy Pecans
1 16-oz pkg. (4 c.) pecan halves or your favorite mixture
1/4 c. brown sugar
4 T. butter
1-2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
2 T. chopped fresh rosemary, finely chopped
In a large frying pan, melt the butter and brown sugar together. Add the pecans and toss until all the sugar is melted and nuts are toasted. Add in the rosemary and remove from heat. Mix in the Tabasco and sea salt to taste. Spread out on parchment paper in a single layer to cool. Store in a tightly sealed container. Try this with other herbs and various hot sauces! Makes a great holiday gift, too.