Holiday Recipes: Theme and Variation on Cranberry Sauce

by Laura Moss

At Thanksgiving, my family is all about that baste. They love my turkey. And while it’s a lovely compliment that they enjoy it so, I don’t enjoy the death threats that come with my yearly suggestion that I mix up our normal feast routine. After all, I’ve made my turkey the same way since I was 21, and for those of you counting, that’s a long, long, long time! What I wouldn’t give to be able to brine, smoke or stuff that bad boy with figs and sausage or whatever strikes my fancy.

imagejpeg_3I do understand where they are coming from. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and I’ve only had one turkey disaster my entire adult life. The first year I attempted making Thanksgiving, the bird came out of the oven with a bright pink ring on the breast as you sliced through the meat. Convinced I was going to give my family salmonella, I ran to the market and got another bird and threw it in the oven. Dinnertime was changed from 1 to 5 and the bird was on the table in time before my family officially starved to death.

So, while I’m not allowed to change my turkey recipe (such a pity for someone who likes to play with their food), I AM allowed to play with my side dishes as long as my turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes grace the table. It would be considered blasphemy if they didn’t. Apparently I live with a rather dictatorial and rigid lot.

If your idea of cranberry sauce is the kind you slide out of a can in one large gelatinous mass, I beseech you to repent the error of your ways. One of my favorite side dishes to have fun with are the cranberries, and they are a remarkably easy side dish to cook. In fact, cranberries were one of the first things I taught my kids how to cook so they could feel like they were a part of the feast preparation.

The lowly cranberry isn’t much to talk about. It’s beautifully colored, but don’t let its ripe looking exterior fool you. These things are seriously tart and nearly inedible without being shown a little love.

The basic recipe never really changes. One of cup water and one cup of sugar are dissolved and simmered to make a simple syrup. Once the cranberries are added the magic starts. There is nothing that sounds more like the holidays than listening to the cranberries make the most wonderful popping/splooshing sound as they cook.

These are some of the ways that I have jazzed up my cranberry sauce over the years. Fifteen minutes is all you need from start to finish to make these variations. Once cooked and cooled, store them in the refrigerator. They will thicken on their own. This is also one of the dishes I make the day ahead. Have fun!


1 Tablespoon minced rosemary and a generous splash of Tourani raspberry syrup or Frangellico raspberry liqueur

2. 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, orange zest

3. 1 small jar of prepared horseradish (if you use the white use significantly less or you may cry), and ¼ – ½ cup sour cream

4. 1-2 Teaspoons siracha sauce and fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with freshly shaved dark chocolate. 

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