While turkey, stuffing, and pies are easy for most holiday cooks, the one portion of the meal that can really be challenging year after year is the side dishes. Certainly everyone has perennial family favorites, the ones made over and over. But sometimes you want to try something new…
It used to be a seasonal thing, being crazy for cranberries. Not any more. But there is no Thanksgiving holiday table without cranberry sauce. And I am not alone considering how many cooks love to make a batch of their own cranberry sauce for the holiday table. The array of flavors is close to infinite considering cranberries meld with so many other flavors from curry to ginger.
Every holiday season I make lots of this bright cranberry chutney to serve with turkey and as a spread for sandwiches. I got it from extraordinaire food writer and recipe developer Peggy Fallon, a cranberry lover, who serves it as an accompaniment to a savory cheesecake for winter entertaining. This is one of my all time favorite cooked sauces, one I prepare every year and often give as gifts. Serve it as a condiment, or dabbed on unsalted crackers with soft cheese.
Cranberries and blueberries come from the same botanical family as rhododendrons and heathers. They are native to the bogs of New England, but great fruit comes from Oregon and Washington, all grown organically. Fresh cranberries arrive in stores in late fall and can be frozen in their original wrapping (don’t put frozen cranberries in the bread machine; defrost first) for use in the spring and summer. Use bags of fresh cranberries within two weeks of purchase so that they won’t get mushy or shriveled. My mother got this recipe from her antique dealer, Alan, who is a genius in the kitchen. For so few ingredients, the results are tart and satisfying with all sorts of roasted meats like poultry, pork loin, and ham. This method of preparing cranberry sauce with the ginger juice fast became a yearly ritual at Thanksgiving and Christmas in my family.
Whether you are serving the glamorous or casual, a ham is a delight on the buffet table. Even people who never eat ham will indulge at a party. It is “special” and the hunk looks very impressive sitting on a platter or carving board in all its glistening glory.
Considering how easy it is to make marshmallows and how appealing they are, it’s surprising that they are so infrequently made at home. They are way more tender and flavorful than store-bought, especially when a little honey is incorporated to round out the taste. They also don’t have all sorts of strange ingredients.
Panes de Muerto, or “breads of the dead,” is a special orange- and anise-spiked egg bread made especially for November 2, All Soul’s Day, a Mexican national holiday honoring the deceased. It is a fusion between Indian and Spanish religions. This is a very happy loaf, despite the morbid name, and is consumed with the reverence awarded to Holy Communion.
A sure sign that Indian summer is in full bloom is the appearance of the pumpkin patch the local produce stands. Farm Fresh Produce in the South San Francisco Bay Area occupied a stretch of property on the corner of a suburban area, and busy street, that grew corn as high as an elephant’s eye and ruby red oversized tomatoes, big sunflowers with their nodding heads to line the field, and old rose bushes, for as long as I can remember. How delightfully out of place.
If you are using a fresh pumpkin, you will have pumpkin seeds, which can be roasted and salted for some good nibbling, used in baking, or for a topping on salads.
One of my favorite characters in literature and movies is Count Dracula, the vampire from the Transylvanian Alps of Eastern Europe. Obviously I am not alone since the media is thick with pop Gothic vampire regalia.