Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Essentials: Honey-Sweetened Cranberry Sauce and Maple-Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Hello readers! So, I know it's been a while, but this weekend I find myself in western MA with Brady  - which means a real kitchen with all my gadgets and an actual food audience - so it it seemed like a good time to jump on the holiday bandwagon. This was very fortunate timing for Brady, as his MAT colleagues had a lovely Thanksgiving potluck shindig this weekend as well. I would like to think that I did him a favor cooking two things for us to bring, but I've missed cooking for people other than myself, so I can't act like it was some huge hardship.

And also.. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the complete lack of photos in this post, but those of you who have ever tried to cook something and bring it to a party still warm can relate: those last few minutes getting out the door are a bit nuts. So you will just have to believe me when I tell you that the sauce and the potatoes were both colorful and lovely. Or better yet - make them yourself if you don't believe me!

Cranberry Sauce (Vegan)
I am not ashamed to admit that usually, can-shaped cranberry sauce is my preference. I love the stuff. But, when arriving at somebody's house for a party, I thought cranberry jell-o might be considered a bit.. gauche. So, here is a simple recipe that is cool, refreshing, festive, and a great relish compliment to all those rich holiday sides. This makes a rather large batch, since I was serving about 12 people, but can be easily halved:

2 12-oz bags fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup 100% orange (pulp is ok), cranberry juice (not cocktail), or tangerine juice
1 tsp grated orange or tangerine zest
3/4 cup honey

Autumnal spices - ground cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, etc (optional)

1. In a medium-to-large saucepan, combine water, zest and honey, and bring to a boil.
2. Rise cranberries, picking out any shriveled or ugly-looking berries, and add once liquid is boiling. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. (You can also add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, or a pinch of ground clove or allspice at this step, if you want to).
3. Remove from heat and cool fully at room-temperature, then refrigerate for up to one week. (Sauce will thicken as it cools).

The orange adds a more mellow citrus flavor to the tart cranberries, and with the honey it is a nice balance of tart and (barely) sweet. I had tangerines on hand, so I used the juice and zest from one in place of the orange, which worked out great. And of course, I certainly feel better about using honey than a refined white sugar. If you can be convinced to deviate from the can-shaped variety, I recommend it!

Sweet Potatoes (Vegetarian)
This recipe comes from Martha Stewart's impossibly-perfect-yet-so-elegantly-simple recipe for Maple-Whipped Sweet Potatoes, which calls for oven-roasted potato flesh and a few staple additions to make some seriously beautiful potatoes with minimal effort. Again, this is a pretty big batch, but close to all of it was eaten by 12 people:

7-8 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
Coarse salt and ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork; about 6-8 times each.
2. On a rimmed baking sheet, bake potatoes until very tender when stabbed with a fork, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, halve the potatoes lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skins.
3. Transfer potato flesh to a food processor, add butter and syrup, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and serve warm.
4. (Or, if you're in a party-travel situation, transfer sweet potatoes to a large covered baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, wrap in clean cotton dish cloths, and hope they stay mostly-warm through the 20 minute drive to the party. If needed, you can always reheat them, uncovered, later on).

These were super, super tasty, and got lots of compliments. And it's not exactly quick, but definitely easy, and surprisingly light in texture. I did end up reheating them quickly when we arrived, but that's more because we got lost on the way than anything else. They were keeping my lap quite toasty until that third wrong turn...

We had a great evening with some great people, and as potlucks go it was exceptionally "lucky" - everybody brought something delicious that they had made, the hostess roasted a beautiful turkey, and a good time was had by all. Enough to make you thankful to know good people, even if you don't know them all that well. Thanksgiving success.

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