Holiday Happenings: Cranberry Sauce

bags-of-cranberries

“Apparently cranberry sauce is underappreciated….”

My husband came home the other day and told me about a news story on the radio. The topic was cranberry sauce and how it was not as appreciated as other foods eaten during the Thanksgiving meal. This, of course, spurred discussion among our family about our own cranberry preferences. My son will only eat jellied cranberry sauce with no chunks. My oldest, my husband and I love cranberry sauce in any form. My other daughter won’t eat it, no matter the texture.

Cranberries, however, are very good for your health, containing antioxidants, fiber, and many nutrients needed by the body. What I find, though, is that because they have such a tart flavor, folks use way too much sugar when cooking with them. So, I like to make my own cranberry sauce instead of purchasing it from the store.

When I tell folks that I make cranberry sauce, they always seemed to be surprised, which I find surprising since cranberry sauce is the easiest food to make. You simply put cranberries into a pot with water and sweetener and let it cook down. The entire process takes about 10-15 minutes, at the most.

Where the creativity comes in is deciding what type of cranberry sauce you’d like for Thanksgiving. You can add other fruits to the cranberries like pears or apples or tangerines or oranges or apricots or cherries to add a contrasting fruity flavor to the cranberries. You can add red wine or port or bourban if you’d like a more complex flavor. You can add ginger or maple or anise or jalapeno if you’re looking to try something a little different this year. You can use water, orange juice, apple cider or any other liquid you can imagine to change the flavor. You can add nuts or dried fruits to add crunch and texture. You can even change up the texture of the sauce, making it chunky, relish-style or jellied.

And after Thanksgiving the cranberry sauce can be “recycled” in many ways. Swirl it into your favorite cheesecake recipe. Add the sauce as a fixing for your favorite sandwich. Mix it into a muffin recipe. Top pancakes or waffles with it. Combine it with another fruit to make the filling for a pie. Stir it into your breakfast oatmeal. Use it as a spread for a slice of quick bread like banana or zucchini. Combine it with cream cheese for a dip. Top vanilla ice cream with it. The ideas are endless.

A food as versatile as cranberry sauce is truly just begging for you to experiment this year. And what’s great is that unless you’re allergic to cranberries, people with food allergies can eat it!

Some tips:

  1. The cranberries: It doesn’t matter whether you use fresh or frozen cranberries. The general rule of thumb is that about 12 ounces of cranberries requires about 1 cup of liquid.
  2. The sweetener: For most recipes, for 12 ounces of cranberries, they’ll call for 1 cup of sugar. I’d suggest you cut that in half and save your health or use 1/4 cup Agave or 1/2 cup of coconut sugar or 1/3 cup truvia.
  3. The add-ins: Decide what type of cranberry sauce you’d like to make and add the ingredients in with the cranberries so that they all cook together and the flavors meld.
  4. Traditional Style: To make traditional cranberry sauce, simply put all your ingredients into a pot, bring the liquid to a boil, let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the cranberries pop and are the texture you’d like, remove from the heat, let it cool, and then refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
  5. Relish Style: Simply use your food processor to chop up the cranberries, sweetener and additions and refrigerate. You should decrease the liquid, though, and only add just enough to moisten the relish.
  6. Jellied Style: Prepare the sauce as you would for the traditional but then push everything through a strainer, mashing the ingredients as much as you can to get as much as you can into the sauce and then refrigerate what you’ve pushed through the strainer.

 

With Gratitude: Thanksgiving Muffins

“Only two weeks to Thanksgiving and then it’s Advent!”

My son ran into the kitchen today to announce that my time to pretend the holidays were not approaching was at an end. I could ignore his heralding at six months, three months, and even one month… but two weeks! Whether I was ready or not, it was time to begin thinking.

The fact is that when you have multiple food allergies, thinking about holiday meals can be something you’d like to put off if you can, because thinking about them means figuring out exactly which and how many dishes you’ll be making simply to ensure that you have food to eat.

If you’re new to the blog, you can search by category for “holidays” and find posts I’ve previously submitted about allergy friendly holiday cooking — everything from how to minimize stress to how to revamp pies, cakes, entrees and side dishes.

This week, however, a young mom wrote asking me about ideas for a Thanksgiving muffin. Her father-in-law cannot have eggs, dairy and wheat, so she thought muffins might be easier to make than rolls. She wanted the muffins to be “Thanksgiving-ish”, though, and I had just the recipe for her.

Thanksgiving Muffins. When I think about Thanksgiving, pumpkins, squash, apples, and cranberries always come to mind. So I have a recipe that you can make just about any way you want, varying the type of cranberries you choose, your choice of pumpkin, winter squash or even a homemade applesauce in place of pumpkin, and even the spices you decide to include. And the bonus is that they’re gluten, dairy, egg, soy, and nut free, too.

Thanksgiving Muffins

Ingredients:

4 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

12 tbsp water

2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or winter squash (butternut, acorn, etc…) or apples

2/3 cup safflower oil

3/4 cup Agave

1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, dried cranberries, or cooked cranberries (My kids like the cooked cranberries best because they’re softer and I usually cook them with a bit of agave to make them sweeter, but you can also use fresh cranberries if you want a tart/sweet flavor contrast to the muffins or dried cranberries if you want the muffins to have some chewiness and little more sweetness)

3 1/2 cup gluten free flour blend (I usually use a homemade mixture of sorghum, garbanzo bean, and oat flour with arrowroot starch but I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur and Authentic Foods)

2 1/2 tsp spices (any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, allspice and/or cloves are good)

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp vinegar (I like to use apple cider vinegar but a white vinegar is fine, too)

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and fill 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners. (The orange, red-flecked muffins look pretty in a white liner if you put the muffins in a bowl to put on the table for the Thanksgiving meal.)
  2. Combine the flaxseed with the water and let sit for five minutes.
  3. In a large bowl mix together the cooked pureed pumpkin or squash or apples with the oil, agave and flaxseed mixture. Set aside.
  4. In a food processor chop the cranberries, no matter what type you’re using, because this will distribute them more evenly throughout the muffin. Add to the wet mixtures.
  5. In another bowl mix the flour, spices, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, along with the water and vinegar. Mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened.
  7. Evenly distribute the batter among the 24 muffin cups. They will be filled almost to the top.
  8. Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Muffins will be puffed and golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey Talk

“The measure of success is not how high you fly but how high you bounce.”

Apparently I owe folks an apology. I blithely wrote a post about chocolate cupcakes for Thanksgiving, absolutely unaware that people were expecting some advice about turkey! Many thanks to the people who kindly made me aware! *grin*

First, my most important piece of advice: Let the worry go! I have never understood why people stress so much about cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. The truth is that, yes, something may go wrong. Just accept that fact now, plan for it, and move forward. It’s really rather freeing to know that things are not going to be perfect, so you can just enjoy being with family and friends. If the turkey is too dry, so be it; that’s what gravy and cranberry sauce is for anyway!

Now, for the turkey: (Will try to address the questions asked):

1. Frozen versus fresh: This is really just about time and money. Frozen turkeys tend to be cheaper, but you have to thaw them a couple of days ahead of time. Fresh is a little bit more money, but you can pick it up the day before.

A tip: If you don’t have a lot of space in your fridge for the turkey, put a cooler on your porch filled with ice and keep your turkey in there. As long as you’re replacing any ice that melts, your turkey will stay cold.

2. To brine or not: Funny how folks worry about this. This, too, is about time. Yes, brining does make for a moist turkey. Why? Because the turkey absorbs the liquid which then means less is lost during the cooking process. Brining, however, means doing some work ahead of time, and if you have any sodium issues, you don’t really want to add salt to your turkey.

If you choose to brine, it’s really just a matter of mixing some kosher salt with water, and if you want, herbs and/or aromatics like celery, garlic or onions. People will vary as to how much salt versus water they say to use. I usually use 2 tbsp of kosher salt for 4 quarts of water, and brine my turkey for two days. Others use more salt per water and brine the turkey for just 8 hours. What’s important to note is that the stronger the salt-water, the shorter amount of time you’ll want to use, because you don’t want your turkey to become too salty, even if you don’t have salt issues.

If you don’t want to brine, then the tip is to cook your turkey at a lower temperature. A long, slow roast makes for a moister turkey than cooking at a high heat which dries the meat out. This, of course, means starting your turkey a lot earlier in the day or having your meal much later in the day.

Tips: If you do brine, you can put the turkey into a large stockpot or tupperware with the brine and put it into your cooler on the porch. Also, if you purchased a frozen turkey, you can put the turkey into the brine frozen and allow it to slowly defrost in the brine.

3. Flavoring: If you really want a flavorful turkey, make a rub of herbs and rub it over the turkey flesh. This means gently pulling the skin away from the turkey and rubbing the dry rub underneath the skin. For the skin, if you actually like to heat the skin, you can make a moist rub by adding a bit of olive oil to the herbs and rubbing it over the skin. There’s no need to use salt or butter which helps folks who have issues with either.

A tip: Instead of stuffing your bird with stuffing, put herb sprigs and garlic and onions and carrots inside the bird. Makes for a lovely taste. Also, stuffing the bird is not the best, because you get all the bacteria from the inside of the bird onto your stuffing, and to get your stuffing to the right temperature usually means overcooking your turkey.

4. Cooking: If you are someone who really is worried about cooking a whole turkey just right, go ahead and purchase one of those turkey bags. They really do work. If you are like me and would rather not spend the whole day cooking a whole turkey, you can chop your turkey into pieces-parts and cook the white and dark meat in separate containers at the same time.

As I mentioned above, you can cook your turkey at a high heat for quicker cooking but as this will make for a drier turkey, you really should put water or chicken broth at the bottom of the pan and baste during the cooking process. Otherwise, cook the turkey at a low heat, and then just before it’s finished turn up the heat to crisp up the outer skin.

A turkey between 12 and 16 lbs usually  takes around 3 to 3 1/2 hours at 350 degrees if it’s not stuffed. Add an hour if it’s stuffed. Always use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. You want the bird to be at 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you remove it from the oven.

Tips: It’s always good to use a rack when cooking your turkey. To make your life easy, though, go ahead and purchase a disposable pan with a built in rack (basically a patterned raised bottom). I found these at our local dollar store for a buck. Best deal ever!

Also, let your turkey rest before carving. If you give the turkey time to sit, some of the liquids will be reabsorbed into the turkey as it cools. Use the resting time to finish off any side dishes in the oven.

Finally, you know what: You can always make the turkey the day before, slice it up, arrange it prettily on an oven proof platter, and then reheat it the next day just until it’s warm. No Thanksgiving day stress!

5. The gravy: If you’re looking to be healthy, just go ahead and use low sodium, fat free chicken broth in your favorite gravy recipe. If you make your own using the bones and neck and such of the turkey, you can also be healthier by straining your homemade broth over ice cubes which will skim the fat away for you.

A tip: Use your crock pot: Put anything you are not using from the turkey (bones, neck wings) into the crock pot with water and herbs (fresh is best like sage, oregano, thyme) and aromatics (I throw in carrots, onions, garlic cloves) and just let it cook on high for the whole day (12 hours). You’ll have some wonderful broth for your gravy and for soup without any work your part! When you go to make gravy, use 2 tablespoons of olive oil to 1/4 cup flour of your choice for every 2 cups of broth. For extra flavor, puree the herbs and aromatics from the crockpot and add it to the gravy. If using the pureed aromatics, you can reduce the flour by half because the pureed aromatics will also thicken the gravy.

6. Turkey sides: Make life easy on yourself. Use your crock pot to make veggies so you don’t have to stress about no oven space. Or make dishes which can stand at room temperature. Also, do as much as you can the day before so you can actually enjoy time with your family and friends. Finally, cut yourself some slack. Cheese and crackers are a wonderful appetizer! If you can’t have dairy, veggies and hummus work just as well. Don’t feel pressured to create something fancy. Remember, it’s all about time together, not how fancy the food is!

Happy Thanksgiving!